Why a good night's sleep can make all the difference

I don’t know about you, but I have noticed a big difference in my sleep pattern over the last few weeks since lockdown began.

It seems I am not the only one. Nearly everyone I talk to is feeling the same. From wakening early and vivid dreams to broken sleep, it seems lockdown is having an effect on our slumber.

Whether it is because of the change in our daily routine, working from home making us more sedentary, the stress and fear factor playing a part, or simply the change of season, it is hard to know the reason why.

There are a few things we can do to help us get a good night’s sleep, but rather than just changing our bedtime routine, it pays to think about your daily habits from dawn to dusk.

Our daily body clock

The balance of the energising effects of cortisol and the sleepy effects of melatonin keeps our circadian rhythm in tune. The natural order is that cortisol levels are higher in the morning, in daylight hours, and melatonin is stimulated as the sun goes down and it starts to get dark. At this time of the year, as the mornings are lighter and brighter and the sun sets later in the day the balance starts to shift, so we tend to waken a little earlier and should feel more energised by the extra hours of natural daylight.

A morning routine

What we get up to in the early part of the day has an impact on our daily body clock, so let’s start by having a thing about our morning routine.

1 Although it is tempting to have a lie-in, we can end up feeling more sluggish – and rushed if we do – so get up at your usual time. If possible, waken to natural daylight – open the curtains a little before you go to bed to let some natural daylight in. This will help suppress melatonin and increase natural cortisol levels so you are more likely to waken feeling rested and revived than if woken to the sound of an alarm clock.

2 Get outside first thing. We need daylight to suppress the sleep hormone melatonin and trigger the natural production of energising cortisol, so step outside and, if the weather permits, have breakfast in your garden or on your balcony.

3 It’s a good idea to exercise in the early part of the day for the same reason. We’ve been crumpled up in a ball under a duvet all night, so some light exercise is a good start to the day. Stretching, yoga or a walk are great.

4 Don’t be tempted to stay in your PJs all day. Get washed, dressed and ready for your day so you are mentally creating a time and space to work, and not merging your home life too much with your work life.

5 Start your day with a healthy, balanced breakfast to help maintain and sustain your energy levels. Overnight oats with berries, nuts, seeds and yoghurt is lovely, or eggs on toast with spinach, avocado and tomatoes – include at least one of your five a day at brekkie.

6 If you drink coffee, less is more. Too much caffeine can leave us feeling stressed, anxious and jittery. Stock up on herbal teas or green tea for your tea break. Caffeine stays in our system for four to six hours, and affects the quality and quantity of our sleep, so no caffeine after lunchtime.

Winding down

Creating a good evening routine is just as important as a morning routine.

If you can’t get over to sleep, then a light snack a couple of hours before you drop off might help.

Tryyptophan is a melatonin precursor and is found in oats, almonds and yoghurt, so some oatcakes with almond nut butter or a small pot of yoghurt would be good.

Switch off all devices at least one hour before you go to bed as the blue light they emit can interfere with a good night’s sleep.

Go to bed at a regular time and don’t sit up too late.

This blog post first appeared as my column in The Irish News on Saturday 9 May 2020.