The Science Of Good Sleep
We spend a third of our lives asleep. But it's not in vain. Sleep is crucial for our functioning. It helps us prepare our brains for the next day, consolidates our memories and enables us to make decisions with a clear mind.
Interestingly, one study showed that people who were sleep deprived performed like they were drunk. Researchers found that after 17-19 hours without sleep, response speeds were up to 50% slower in some tests and accuracy was significantly poorer. In some cases, performance levels dropped to the equivalent of participants with a blood alcohol level of 0.1%. That's twice as high as Australia's legal limit for driving with a full license. So what can we do to maximise our sleep?
Thankfully, there are a number of science-based strategies to get better sleep.
Here are the top five:
Get more daylight. Light is one of the most important aspects of the circadian rhythm, which is the biological cycle that regulates when we sleep and when we don't. Spending time outside and increasing our daylight can signal to our body when it's time to sleep (by telling us when it's time to be awake). Pretty cool!
Avoid screen-time 30mins before bed. As light is crucial in setting our sleep cycle, it's no surprise that staring at a screen can signal to our brain that it's still day. Designing our environment for success is key here. Try not to charge your phone next to your bed, this can reduce the temptation to check it right before you sleep. If you're reading in bed, use a physical book or an e-reader. For evening screen time, you can also use something like F.lux, a free software that makes the colour of your computer's screen adapt to the time of day.
Keep your bedroom cool. According to the latest science, cool temperatures can help us sleep. A small drop in our body temperature can prompt sleep signals to our brains, but scientists haven't figured out the exact degree. So far, studies show that between 16-20 degrees can help out!
Avoid caffeine after 2pm. If you're having trouble sleeping, then eliminating caffeine from your day can help. If you can't go without your cup of coffee (that makes two of us), then try to cut out your afternoon coffee. In one study, drinking coffee up to 6 hours before bed can affect how easily we fall asleep.
Create a sleep routine. To help signal to your brain that it's time to sleep, create a routine. This can mean pyjamas or a special t-shirt to gently send a message to your body. Top tip: If you wore it to the gym, then don't wear it to bed! Along with the routine, it can be helpful to go to sleep at a consistent time as it helps your body predict when it's time for lights out.
Tying it up
Sleep is critical for our functioning, and can help us keep a clear mind to make better decisions. Signalling to our brains when it's time to sleep can be improved with increasing our exposure to daylight, decreasing our pre-bed screen time, introducing routine and optimising temperature. Play around with it, and see what works for you!