March 17th was World Sleep Day.
Maybe you were asleep and you missed it, or if like me you are continually in search of the holy grail of a good nights sleep, then maybe it served as a kind of wake-up call?
I routinely get between 7 and 8 hours sleep a night, but is it good sleep? You know, the kind that refreshes and restores, because to be frank, I don't always bounce out of bed each morning feeling fully rested and powered up ready to go.
I know from my work on mindfulness that many of us spend on average 9 hours a day on some type of screen - be that a tablet device, laptop, desktop, fitbit, or smart-phone, and that is actually longer than many of us spend asleep each night.
Our 24/7 lifestyle and omnipotent access to screens of all types, suppress the release of melatonin - the sleep inducing hormone - by messing with our body clock and this also makes us more disposed to go to bed later. In fact, the average weekly bedtime in the UK is 11.45pm.
A Vicious Cycle
Our body clocks evolved at a time when natural light (and the absence of it) was the only way for it to synchronise, and there is a sweet-spot between 8pm and midnight when the Brain and body are inclined to work together to get the perfect ratio of deep non-REM sleep to REM (dream) sleep.
But if our circadian rhythm - our 24 hour Master Clock - is out of synch and we start going to bed later then we could be storing up trouble for ourselves.
Night Owls are more likely to eat high-sugar and fatty foods, take less exercise and sleep worse than naturally early risers. Poor sleeping patterns are also associated with type 2 diabetes, as well as with weight gain and obesity from a tendency to snack on high calories treats.
Unless we take proper steps to power-down before bedtime, there is a very real danger that not only will our quality of sleep suffer, but so will we! Not least, we might get stuck in the intermediate level of sleep, where the brain is consolidating and filing, meaning we never reach the deeper and rejuvenating delta level. Perhaps explaining why so many of us wake-up feeling tired, yet wired.
Good sleep is as important to physical and mental wellbeing as exercise and eating the right kind of foods and clearly I need a proper sleep routine - but first a few more sleep facts:
The first third of the night's sleep is the most important because it contains the highest level of deep slow-wave (rejuvenating) sleep, or SWS, and it's important to try and get as much as you can in before midnight
The body and the brain start preparing you to wake-up about 90 minutes before it actually happens, so it makes sense to have regular bed and wake-up times to have the best chance of fitting in as much good sleep as possible in the time available
Our bodies crave routine and would rather love to go to bed and get up at the same times every day; If left to our own devices we would tend to naturally wake-up at 7.18 am
My 7 Ways to Sleep the Good Sleep
"We are such stuff as dreams are made on, and our little life is rounded with a sleep".
Bolstered then by William Shakespeare's words and the fruits of my own wee investigation, I intend to embark on a new sleep routine with these 7 Ways to Sleep the Good Sleep:
Whether it's a 10pm, 10.30pm or an 11pm bedtime, I will start to power-down at least 30 minutes before
When in my power-down zone I will switch off all screens and mobile devices and ban them from my bedroom
I will ensure my bedroom is as dark, well ventilated and quiet as possible
My default night-cap - a wee dram if you're asking - will be replaced by a hot milky drink (yes, I admit that's going to be a tough one)
I will spend a few minutes updating my gratitude journal with 3 things I'm particularly grateful for from the day I've just been privileged to live, and remind my self of things I've been grateful for in the recent past
I shall spend a few more minutes practicing mindful breathing; &
I will set my alarm for 7.18 am, but bounce out of bed at exactly 7.22 am, which according to a recent study by the University of Westminster, is the perfect time to wake up
PS And I'll keep you posted on how I fare
Paul Mudd is the author of 'Uncovering Mindfulness: In Search of a Life More Meaningful'. As well as being an occasional contributor to The Huffington Post, he is also a contributing writer to Thrive Global. Through The Mudd Partnership he works with business leaders, organisations and individuals in support of change, leadership excellence, business growth, organisational and individual wellbeing and well doing, and introducing Mindfulness. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org and you can follow the continuing journey Uncovering Mindfulness on Twitter @TheMindfulBook and @Paul_Mudd