If you’re waking up feeling tired every morning, or struggling to get to sleep at night, or just getting nowhere near the six to eight hours rest you should be — and really, who is? — then research has identified the culprit, and it’s not stress, or diet or late-afternoon coffees.
In fact, the saying “don’t go into the light” took on new meaning this week, with major Australian research detailing just how bad for us artificial light can be when it comes to getting a proper night’s sleep. The problem, the researchers found, is melatonin, or rather the lack of it.
Think of melatonin as your sleep hormone, and one that has naturally controlled when we drift off to sleep and when we wake up since cavemen strolled the earth.
When the sun begins to set, your melatonin levels increase, telling your body that it’s time for bed. When the skies begin to brighten the following morning, those levels drop, this time telling you that it’s time to get up.
Sounds easy enough, right? But the problem, according to the latest research, is that the lights in our home — and especially those energy-saving LED bulbs — have become so bright that they are suppressing our melatonin levels, throwing our natural circadian rhythms right out of whack.
The researchers at Monash University gave people wearable spectrophotometers (which sound very technical and expensive), and found that almost half of the homes tested had lights bright enough to reduce natural melatonin production by 50 per cent.
You can see the problem. As the sun sets, our bodies naturally begin producing more melatonin. And then we switch on the lights — and the TV, and our phones and iPads — which, just like the rising sun, tell our bodies it’s time to get up.
The result is a nation of sleep-deprived zombies stumbling around, never quite sure whether it’s day or night or somewhere in-between.
But it doesn’t have to be this way. While the very best way to ensure a good night’s sleep is clearly to sit around in the dark until you finally drift off to sleep — which is not the kind of thing that will work wonders for your social life — there are other, easier steps you can take.
So with all of that in mind, this week I’m going to walk you through getting the best night’s sleep you’ve ever had.
BLUE EQUALS BAD
Those blue lights coming from your TV, iPad, smartphone and other electronic devices are serenity-shattering and not conducive to sound sleep.
Turn off your all of your devices at least 40 minutes before you go to bed, and invest in an old-fashioned alarm clock so you’re not tempted to look at your phone.
WASH IT OFF
Don’t dismiss the sleepiness that follows a relaxing bath or shower. The warm water soothes your body and your mind as it dilates blood vessels that relax muscle tension. By the time you’re finished you’ll be comfortable, clean and ready for sleep.
SLEEPY SCENTS WORK
You might be sceptical, but research shows that scents like lavender and vanilla will drift you to sleep quicker than anything else.
MAKE IT COUNT
Research shows that every hour of pre-midnight sleep is worth two hours of post-midnight sleep, in terms of the restorative effect on your body. So hitting the hay early is a great investment.
CREATE A CALMING SPACE
That means closing the curtains or blinds, turning off the light, plumping up the pillows, having a comfortable mattress and the ideal number of blankets so you don’t wake up in the middle of the night roasting or freezing.
GET FIT AND HEALTHY WITH ADAM MACDOUGALL
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