Sleep experts say many of us aren't getting enough sleep. Our sleep habits now have more to do with social influences - working hours, leisure activities and so on - than the natural cycles of light and dark.
Studies have looked at pre industrialised communities in comparison to communities with plentiful artificial light and industry. Pre industrialised communities fell asleep around 3 hours after sunset, and the times people fell asleep adjusted with the seasons. Interestingly sleep duration was similar between these communities and industrialised regions. Most studies in this area of research suggest artificial light delays sleep time but does not necessarily impact overall sleep duration. The exception for this of course is when people need to be up at a certain time for work - then the impact of falling asleep later and taking longer to fall asleep becomes significant.
Is there anything we can do to maximise the quality of the hours we ARE getting in bed?
Bedrooms are supposed to be a place of rest but increasingly they are becoming filled with technology. Many people routinely have a TV, laptop or phone in their room which could be affecting our ability to get off to sleep. These types of entertainment not only tempt us to stay up later, but could also be disrupting our sleep quality.
The blue light emitted by these screens make us feel more alert and less sleepy - not ideal for pre bedtime. Watching TV shows, messaging friends or browsing social media gives the brain too much stimulation at a time it is meant to be winding down. Research shows as much as 50% of us check our phones AFTER we have gone to bed and the lights are out. This demonstrates that our brains are far from switched off, relaxed and ready for sleep, and demonstrates the importance of a good bedtime routine for relaxing our minds.
Experts are now recommending reducing screen time in the evening and cutting out phone use at least one hour prior to bed. Many devices now have a mode which cuts out the blue light emitted by the device, which at least cuts down on one of the problems. However, phone use, whether it be checking emails, social media or messaging is still a highly stimulating activity and best avoided in that hour before bedtime.
Reduce the temptation by setting your phone hours and putting your phone into sleep mode the hour before you go to bed, or even leave it in another room to charge overnight.
Try replacing your evening screen time with reading or yoga. These are ideal evening activities to help your brain relax ready for sleep. You’ll be surprised how quickly you adjust to your new routine and enjoy your evening wind down.