We all struggle occasionally with sleep– whether it’s a new-born baby, shift patterns at work, or stress-related, we can find ourselves struggling to fall asleep, or conversely waking up early in the morning and unable to get back to sleep again. Sleep deprivation impacts every area of our life – our relationships, our mood, our efficiency and even weight gain have all been connected to lack of sleep.
What goes wrong with our sleep?
Two hormones play an important role in our sleep – melatonin, which sets our body clock, and adrenalin which is part of our fight/flight system. Understanding how these hormones work can help us make effective changes in our sleep pattern.
Our body clock hormone, melatonin, responds to daylight and to our eating routine. We see this with babies – new-borns eat and sleep around the clock, but as they get older their bodies shift into a pattern of feeding in the day and sleeping at night. Getting into habits such as eating late at night, or using screens such as TVs, tablets and phones disrupts our melatonin production, making our bodies stay awake instead of sleeping. During the day time, not getting exercise or sunlight or taking naps makes our bodies think it is night time, worsening our sleep.
Adrenalin is produced when we are anxious and will keep us awake. If we are worrying late at night we release adrenalin, making it hard to sleep. And how many of us have lain awake at night, watching the clock, worrying about how little time we have left to sleep in, and how tired we are going to be the following day? These thoughts increase our anxiety levels, releasing even more adrenalin, and making it even harder to fall back to sleep.
Caffeine and nicotine also mimic the effects of anxiety on our bodies by raising our heart rate, which can make it harder for us to sleep.
How can we improve our sleep?
Well, the experts suggest something called ‘Sleep Hygiene’ – another name for good sleep habits. These work by helping to regulate our levels of melatonin and adrenaline, getting our body clock back into order and lowering our adrenalin levels at night. Maybe you could take one of the suggestions below and see if it works for you.
· Have your last cup of coffee or tea of the day by 4pm, and switch to decaf after that.
· During the day, try and get outdoors for some sunlight or exercise.
· Try to wake up at the same time each day.
· Get a bedtime routine – have a bath, a milky drink, and time to wind down before sleep.
· Put your phone on to charge downstairs and switch off all screens an hour before bed time.
· Turn your clock away from your bed so you can’t see the time when you wake up in the night.
There are lots of other strategies to try too. If your sleep could still be improved after trying the ideas above, why not go on a Sleep Management or CBT for Insomnia course run by Bristol Wellbeing Therapies? You can sign up online at