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Sleep hygiene: how to achieve better sleep

Sleep… something we all do every day. So,  when did we become so bad at it? We are constantly looking for better ways to catch up and rest up. Has your mind wandered to sleep hygiene yet? We chat to Michael Rafferty, author of “The Performers Fitness Book Of Sleep” to find out more. Can you really sleep better? 

For more sleep guidance to a restful night, check out our sleep section!

Michael Rafferty has been involved in fitness and health, professionally, for the last 17 years as a physical therapist, personal trainer, lifestyle coach and writer, based in London. Having been an actor and clown for 25 years, a performing arts/ drama lecturer for fifteen, Michael became disillusioned by the emerging ‘celebrity culture’, teaching students who sought fame rather than skill.

So he retrained as a personal trainer, working with performers to enhance their skills and help them prevent/ recover from, injuries. From there, his work expanded to include anyone wanting to prepare themselves for the rigours of the world’s stage.

I do not pretend to be an ‘expert’, ‘guru’, or any kind of validated authority on the subject of sleep.

I do, however, claim to be a person who has experienced long bouts of insomnia and been prescribed a Res Med machine to combat my sleep apnoea ( a device which my partner, almost daily, kneels before and praises the NHS for giving me). This condition prompted me to research the subject of sleep more deeply.

For one reason or another, I decided against that project but, instead, published two slim volumes on ‘Sleep’ and ‘Meditation and Relaxation”. So what I am about to impart, derives from the research that I did at that time. There may be novel ways that have subsequently been discovered, I don’t know.

Here are the main factors related to acquiring good, restful, sleep:

Firstly, light

Ensure that you have enough exposure to light during the day and lessen your exposure to artificial light after dark.

Your body needs a certain level of brightness in order to produce melatonin. This is produced more or less in proportion to the brightness of the sun you expose yourself to during the day.

Generally, the least amount of exposure to daylight required to facilitate your “ body clock” is 30 to 60 minutes’ worth.

Preferably in the morning.

After dark, lessen your exposure to artificial light. It will help your body to produce and release melatonin, making you feel sleepy. Melatonin is a hormone that gives you a better quality of sleep by preparing your body for the sleep of the best kind – restorative sleep.

Total darkness is the best sleep environment.

Nevertheless, if you need a light to navigate at night, using a yellow, red or orange bulb will help to produce melatonin and serotonin, unlike blue or white light.

Keep the bedroom door closed, try to refrain from using lights at night and make sure that curtains are light- proof. This is because the body sets its own agenda when stimulated by light and won’t necessarily follow your sleep agenda. If the environment is not light- free, wear an eye mask. You can use it on holiday as well.

Secondly, technology

Stop watching television or using other electronic devices at least an hour before bedtime, because your brain thinks it is still daytime when confronted by devices which emit blue light.

Between 9 and 10 p.m. is the time that your brain usually starts to secrete melatonin. Blue light slows down the process. Also, turn off wireless routers when sleeping. Electromagnetic fields can affect the production of melatonin in your pineal gland.

Besides, you probably won’t want to surf the internet whilst you sleep.

Thirdly, temperature

Lower the temperature. Your body naturally, and automatically, drops its temperature in order to produce an ideal climate for sleep.

If the temperature in your sleeping area is too high, your body will struggle to settle into sleep.

The optimum room temperature for sleep is between 15 and 20 degrees centigrade, it has been discovered. It was found that people with a  higher than a normal temperature at bedtime, or just before, had difficulty getting to sleep.

To help insomniacs Sleep well, the University Of Pittsburgh, gave participants in their experiment, hats containing cool, circulating water. They fell asleep faster than people who never experienced sleep problems ( 13 minutes as opposed to 16 minutes).

The psychophysical, or mind-body connection, is recognising a raised body temperature as a sign of stress, and the brain is trying to deal with it.

See Also

Although your body needs to be cool, if you feel cold in your extremities, you need to use a pair of socks, a hot water bottle, or similar. Like all aspects of fitness, you need to customise – there’s no one size fits all.

But there are other factors, too

One is sleep environment:

Make your bedroom a place solely for sleep, not for watching TV or for working. Keep electrical devices, such as alarm clocks, as far from your bed as possible, with the face turned away, in order to not cause you anxiety.

Go to bed early:

The optimum time is between 10 p.m. and 2.00 a.m., the time when your body repairs itself. Modern technology has messed with our innate design. Like most animals, we were designed to go to bed just after sunset. Our bodies have yet to learn that or, should I say, re- learn that. Between 10 p.m. and 2.00a.m. is the time when Melatonin and Human Growth Hormone ( HGH) are secreted at their highest level.

Even if you sleep for 8 hours outside of that time slot, for example, 1.00 a.m. and 9.00 a.m., you will miss most of that regenerative window. If you experience a sleepy feeling at 10 p.m., it is highly likely that you will proceed to waken up again and, when you eventually decide to go to bed, find it difficult to sleep, resulting in feeling tired and untested in the morning.

Regularity. Yes, I know, boring. Nonetheless, it helps create and maintain a healthy sleep pattern.

Also, it becomes habitual. If you need further help, listen to soothing music, learn lines, write, read, practice meditation and/ or relaxation.

Avoid caffeine and alcohol, as well as other stimulating drugs:

Have a hot bath an hour or two before bedtime to raise your body temperature. When you get out of the bath, your temperature will drop quickly, telling your body that it’s time to sleep.

There are other remedies/ suggestions in my book but, for now, sayonara and have a good kip.

You can find out more about Michael and his work on sleep in his book The Performers Fitness Book Of Sleep on Amazon and on his website.

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