Back in the days before electrical lighting, without the lure of TV and the internet (imagine!), it’s easy to see why people tended to keep to regular bedtime routines and hit the hay early most nights; basically, they didn’t have a choice. But, while staying up till all hours checking emails, watching TV, playing games and browsing the web might seem like a freedom to be welcomed, should we in fact learn from the examples set by our predecessors in bygone eras and stick to a more rigid nighttime regime?
Responding to your natural rhythms
We might be able to manipulate our environments to suit our needs and preferences, but the internal workings of our bodies are a different matter entirely. The fact is, we are physiologically programmed to experience different levels of alertness and sleepiness throughout the day and night. In part, we are controlled by sleep/wake homeostasis. This lets us know when our need for rest is accumulating, and the longer we’re awake, the stronger this need becomes.
We’re also subject to our circadian biological clock. This system is controlled by a part of the brain that responds to signals of light and dark, and it sends messages to other areas of the brain that are responsible for controlling a range of things, from our body temperature to our hormone levels. For example, in the mornings when we’re exposed to light, our levels of cortisol rise and our body temperatures go up. This makes us feel more alert. In contrast, when lights dim in the evening, our levels of melatonin start to increase, making us feel drowsy.
Some people have to function against their natural rhythms because of their work or family commitments, but if you have the option, it’s much better to go with your body than against it. Going to sleep in the evening, ideally getting around eight hours of sleep, and then waking up when it’s light in the morning can help ensure you feel alert and energetic during the day.
Getting in the zone
Let’s face it, life can be stressful. At the end of a busy day, with your mind on overdrive, you might find it hard to drift off. This could be one of the reasons why it’s thought that around a third of people in the UK experience episodes of insomnia. However, by devising a relaxing bedtime routine, you should find it easier to fall asleep.
By setting aside an hour or so before bed to unwind, you can get yourself into a better frame of mind for sleep. Try to avoid TVs and electronics that produce noise and light during this time. Instead, consider taking a bath, reading a book, having a massage or doing something else that will calm you down. Make sure you have a comfy bed to sink into as well. According to research conducted by The Sleep Council, a good quality bed frame and mattress can give people an average of an extra hour’s sleep per night.
Keeping a good bedtime routine might not always be easy, but it really is worth making the effort. It can help ensure you get enough shuteye, and it can make you feel better throughout the day.