At this time of year it can be hard to get back into a good sleep routine. Late nights, days off work and a proliferation of food means most of us had to drag ourselves to back to work this week. So are you getting back into the swing of things or are you running a sleep debt?
To feel tired for a few days after the festive fun is inevitable. But it’s important you get your sleep routine back on track ASAP. It’s easier said than done we know, but if you gear yourself with all the necessary strategies it can be sorted in a few days.
Your body may have gotten used to going to bed late and, even if you can’t switch back to your regular bed time, set a regular wake time. This will help to build up enough sleep drive for the following night. As well as improving your chances of falling asleep more quickly. If you tend to lie in, know it can be counter productive to your sleep routine going forward.
Similarly, if you can’t fall asleep quick enough or your mind is racing, leave the bedroom. Go to a different room and try again in 30 minutes. Just remember to stay away from smart devices while you are waiting to go back to bed. Instead, advance your bed time as you get sleepier. The last thing you want is for the Christmas season to trigger insomnia.
Darkness is a facilitator of sleep and fortunately we are not short of darkness in this winter season. Melatonin produced by the pineal gland makes you sleepy and this process is controlled by exposure to light. So turn on the melatonin production by turning off the lights before bed time. Avoid using all smart devices for at least one hour of bed time and dim your bedroom and bathroom lights as well. In the morning, make it a point to get some nice bright light to inhibit melatonin production. This will improve your alertness. So make those extra trips to the window in the office or even get out for a walk.
Are you an avid coffee drinker and sip it through the day to stay awake? A morning cup of coffee helps you to wake up and get you going, but reserve it for the morning only. This applies to everything with caffeine as an ingredient which includes coffee, tea and chocolate.
Likewise, avoid using alcohol as a sedative if you can’t fall asleep. The key thing to remember is the saying if not tonight, then tomorrow night. Sleep will happen when you have built up enough sleep drive.
It’s ideal to get 30 minutes of exercise everyday. Regardless of the time of the day you do it, it helps with your sleep. Why not try a brisk walk in the afternoon when you are the sleepiest? It will energise you for the day ahead and help to sleep better. It may also replace your coffee as a stimulant.
Motty Varghese is a sleep physiologist, a licensed sleep technologist with the Board of Registered Polysomnographic Technologists in the United States and currently works as senior sleep physiologist in St James’s Hospital. He also set up the Sleep Therapy Clinic which offers CBTi. For more information visit sleeptherapy.ie