Winter blows for a lot of reasons. One of the real kickers, though, is dragging yourself from your blanket palace every weekday morning in the dark. Does the whole performance really need to be so ‘bleugh’?
“There’s no reason why waking up in the cold months should be horrible,” Dr Guy Meadows, an insomnia specialist and clinical director of The Sleep School, tells HuffPost UK. “It’s true that humans are solar-powered – we have light-sensitive cells in our eyes which detect the sun as it rises, which triggers cortisol and gives us a wake up call.” But unless you’re dealing with Seasonal Affective Disorder, he says, “if you’re getting the right amount of sleep for your biological need, at the right time for you, there’s no reason you shouldn’t wake up refreshed – even if it’s 6am and dark.”
The key is to “prioritise your sleep”, says Professor Colin Espie, a leading authority in sleep medicine at the University of Oxford and founder of CBT-based digital sleep improvement programme, Sleepio. “It’s there to help us to be ready for the challenges of the day. We shouldn’t be trying to cut corners.”
So, how to fix your bedroom in a way that puts those Zzzzzs front and centre and makes your weekday mornings that bit more chilled – in a good way? Here’s what the experts think.
Get The Right Sort Of Alarm
In 2018′s biggest piece of shock news: the incessant bleep of your phone is not the one when it comes to happy wake ups. “A loud, horrible clock activates your fight or flight response,” says Dr Meadows. “At this time of the year you could set a lamp on a timer or use a sunrise lamp alarm clock.” A standard alarm has no respect for what stage in your sleep cycle you’re at, so something light-based can pull you from your slumber in a gentler way.
Keep A Notepad On Your Bedside Table
“Once in a while, it’s good to have a sleep MOT,” says Professor Espie. “Think about how much sleep you’re getting versus how much you think you need. In the same way that you might know that you’ve gained weight because your size in clothes has gone up, so you can monitor how your sleep is shifting.”
This is a trial-and-error process. If you’re sleeping through the night, you can try taking an extra 20 or 30 minutes and note how that makes you feel. If you toss and turn through the night, you could try taking less and check in on that. Idea is, you’ll eventually find waking up a lot easier, when you find that right ‘size’ sleep for you. Note it down and see where you end up.
Get Your Dressing Gown Out
Make getting up in the cold and dark more tolerable with a few practical actions, before you go to bed. “As well as using light to help to wake you up, you could schedule the heating to come on 30 minutes before your alarm goes off and have your dressing gown right by you,” says Dr Meadows. You could extend this out to having the clothes that you’re going to wear set out or even investing in a coffee maker that can be set to pour you a cup – and waft those caffeine-laced aromas into your bedroom.
[Read More: How To Make Your Bedroom A Relaxing Sleep Haven]
Another trick is to signal to your body that the day is starting by doing things at the same time each morning. For example, you could have breakfast and a hot drink at a set point. “If it becomes ritualistic, you body learns ‘we’re doing this thing again’, which can kick your brain into action,” Dr Meadows adds.
Work Out Your Sleep Cycle
“To feel refreshed, it’s best to wake up as close to the end of a sleep cycle as possible,” says Dr Meadows. “A good way of doing this is to work out your sleep cycle length. We sleep in cycles of an hour and a half to two hours: if you go to bed at 10pm and find yourself waking up at 2am, you can estimate that you’ve had two cycles of two hours in length. If you know you need eight hours to feel refreshed, you then know that 6am is probably the right wake-up time for you.” Get into a rhythm with this, and eventually you’ll wake up, naturally, at the right time.
Keep A Download Diary In The Room
Your ability to go to sleep, as we all know, is often contingent on your ability to stop your mind from retracing the granular detail of that time you slated another girl in year 9 really loudly in the canteen and turned around to find her standing behind you. Or is that just me? “If you’ve got difficulty winding down to go to sleep, then download the day before it’s time to go to bed,” says Professor Espie. How? By using a technique known as ‘putting the day to rest.’
Keep a diary in your bedside drawer (or use the notes app on your phone) and, an hour or so before you want to go to sleep, have a little debrief on the past 24 hours. What are the loose ends? Any worries? What went well? What could go better next time? Tell yourself that this will all be there as a reminder in the morning so you can let these thoughts go from your mind at bedtime.
Doing this can help you to stop your brain from whirring when you want to go in for your shuteye – meaning a longer, deeper sleep and an easier wake-up call.