6 reasons you’ve not been sleeping well — and how to fix them
Whether it’s daytime stresses, a bad diet or issues with your bedroom, we asked a sleep expert to help fix some common sleeping problems…
How did you sleep last night? Calmly, for your full eight hours? Or a little less soundly? Whatever your answer, one thing’s certain; a good night of rest and recuperation is key to living your most productive and constructive life.
Just ask Dr Rebecca Robbins, a sleep research and instructor of medicine at Harvard Medical School and sleep expert for British-based bed manufacturer Savoir Beds. As the co-author of ‘Sleep for Success!’, Robbins has dedicated her days (and nights) to studying our sleep patterns, and developing hacks that promise to improve the quality and tranquility of our nights.
“When you can focus on these small, evidence-based behaviours and practices,” Dr Robbins tells Gentleman’s Journal, “they can increase your chance of a good night’s sleep — and make your time asleep more effective”.
So what exactly should we be changing? Whether it’s daytime stress, a bad diet or problems with your bedroom set-up, we asked Dr Robbins to identify, explain and offer solutions to six of the most common reasons you’ve not been sleeping well…
Your bedroom is too hot (or too cold…)
It’s a common problem; you’re either too hot — or too cold — to sleep. Dr Robbins tells us that a cool core temperature is the key to falling asleep faster, and that we should ideally maintain a bedroom temperature of around 19°C.
“This is within the ‘thermal neutral’ zone,” explains the sleep researcher. “During REM [rapid eye movement] sleep, we have less ability to engage in thermal regulation — such as shivering. This leaves us prone to overheat or be extra cool if our bedroom is either too warm or too cool”.
As such, Dr Robbins adds, getting your bedroom to that optimal temperature of 19°C is vital for a good night’s sleep. But be careful not to overshoot on the thermostat; too high a temperature will leave you vulnerable to discomfort, as your body may switch off its thermal regulatory abilities — which could even result in more nightmares. Yikes.
You’re not eating the right foods (or at the right time…)
There are plenty of foods that allegedly promote better sleep. Almonds, for instance, contain melatonin — a hormone that regulates your sleep cycle. Kiwi fruit is brimming with flavonoids and carotenoids to increase your chances of a restful night. Even fatty fish can help — dosing your dozing with nutrient-boosting vitamin D. But, while Dr Robbins attests that which foods you eat are important, when you eat them could be just as pivotal.
“Specifically,” she says, “the literature on sleep and nutrition termed ‘time restricted eating’ recommends you curtail your eating to within a narrow window. It encourages participants to not eat in the 2-3 hours after waking and 2-3 hours before they sleep, thereby increasing the time they spend fasting in a typical day and into your sleep”.
And the results from these sleep studies have been remarkable. Dr Robbins even says that, for people who are suffering from both chronic diseases — such as metabolic syndrome — and bad sleep, ‘time restricted eating’ may ease both problems.
You’re not exercising enough (or going outside…)
How can you be expected to sleep if you’re not even tired? And how will you ever be really tired if you don’t exercise? Even a brisk walk is better than sitting sedentary at home — and Dr Robbins says that part of the challenge of lockdown and indoor exercising was that exposure to natural, daylight spectrum light was suddenly limited.
“We have data to show that individuals reduced the time they were outdoors significantly,” says the sleep expert. “But blue daylight spectrum light is actually a vital part of our healthy sleep routines — because natural, blue daylight spectrum light flips the ‘on’ switch to the awake phase of our circadian rhythm”.
Without this exposure, Dr Robbins adds, we are limited in our ability to understand when we should be tired and when we should be awake, and this places us at risk for a perpetual state of jet lag, or ‘circadian de synchrony’. So ensure you exercise — but also try to fit in an outdoor workout during daylight hours.
Your mattress isn’t good enough (nor are your pillows or sheets…)
According to the experts, investing in the best mattress, pillows, and sheets your budget will allow is vital. We are often inclined, Dr Robbins says, to spend money on nearly every other element of our lives — from workout equipment to home decor — and seem far less eager to invest in our bedrooms. But we should.
“A mattress is the foundation of your good night’s sleep,” explains Dr Robbins. “Finding a mattress that can promote airflow is critical — as some mattresses can trap heat and increase your core body temperature. If you’re in the market for a new mattress, make sure you can lie down on the mattress or pillows you are considering. Ideally, you want to make sure your head, neck, and spinal column are in as comfortable position as possible. And spend at the top of your budget for these elements”.
And there’s a reason Dr Robbins works closely with Savoir Beds. The British-based bed manufacturer has produced quality headboards, bases and mattresses for over a century; all with an unerring focus on quality and using the finest natural materials. In fact, the brand makes fewer than 1,000 beds a year — star-lashing hourglass springs, sourcing fibres from cashmere to Mongolian yak down, and creating beds as unique as its discerning customers. Take a look here.
You may be stressed (and in a stress/sleepless cycle…)
Even if you don’t know it. Dr Robbins tells us that the sleep researching community refer to a ‘bi-directional relationship’ between mental health and sleep health — meaning that, while your daytime stresses could be affecting the quality of your sleep, it could also be those same bad nights that are influencing your mood during the day.
“Unfortunately,” the expert explains, “after a night of poor quality sleep health, we wake up and are more prone to swings in our emotions. But, more importantly, we are at greater risk of feelings of depression and anxiety, which complicate our ability to obtain restorative sleep the following night — kickstarting a downward spiral”.
But there are ways to break this cycle, Dr Robbins tells us; many of them can be found elsewhere on this list. It’s key to manage your stress during the day (particularly after a bad night’s sleep), so you can get back on track and perpetuate what the experts call a ‘positive feedback loop’ — whereby your sleep health promotes and improves your mental health with every passing night.
Your tech is ruining your nights (but you knew that…)
And you’ll never learn. Despite ‘blue light’ in the bedroom being a common — and commonly-acknowledged — cause of bad sleep, we all still scroll and surf away when we’re meant to be winding down. But this ‘daylight spectrum light’, says Dr Robbins, works to switch on the ‘awake’ phase of our internal circadian rhythms.
“Unfortunately,” the sleep expert adds, “a huge proportion of us report being on our devices up until the moment we want to be falling asleep. Smartphones, tablets, and other screens we use before bed can expose us to ‘daylight spectrum light’, as most of these devices emit blue-enriched light. However, exposure to these light sources can cause our brains to think we want to wake up — precisely when we need to be powering down”.
So what to do? The answer’s simple. As with timing your food intake above, put a time limit on your last scroll through Instagram. It may seem like you’ve lost a limb at first — but try it for a couple of nights and see if it makes a difference. Who knows, you might even rediscover a great novel you’ve long since forgotten…
Savoir Beds' 'Science of Sleep'
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