Stress less. Sleep more.

How many hours of sleep do you get a night? Be honest with yourself. This doesn’t include the time that you lie in bed on your phone flicking through social media accounts or answering emails. I’m talking about good quality, undisturbed sleep. If your answer is less than seven, then its time to start changing your sleeping habits.

I always aim to get between seven to nine hours of sleep a night, and succeed in this 99% of the time. How do I achieve this? I make sleep a priority in my life. In my last blog, I mentioned that food is probably the thing that gives me the most pleasure in life. Sleep is a very close second. I know how much sleep my body needs and if I don’t attain this I don’t function too well at all.

Lets get the sciencey bit out the way. There is a stress hormone released by your body called cortisol. It is created in the adrenal glands and transported through the blood. It gets a bit of a bad rap from a lot of fitness gurus but it can actually be rather helpful. In the morning your cortisol levels are very high, making you alert. This is what wakes you up. After an initial cortisol boost, the body’s level of cortisol slowly begins to decrease and you become tired and ready for a nights sleep. This allows you to stick to a regular sleeping pattern. There are exceptions as your body is quite clever and can change the timings of cortisol release. For example, for those that work night shifts.

Stressful situations cause a spike in cortisol production. This messes with the natural cortisol balance and so steps should be taken to prevent this from happening. So let me give you a few tips to help you sleep more effectively.

- Try exercise as far away from bedtime as possible. If exercising in the evening is the only time possible then please don’t stop doing this! However, as good as exercise is for you, it is stressful and can cause a rise in cortisol levels. If exercising late in the evening, I recommend slower steady state cardio, like a brisk uphill walk.

- Stick to relaxing tasks close to bedtime, such as reading, or listening to music. This should relax you and set you up perfectly for sleeping. This leads on to my final point:

- AVOID white light emitting devices, such as e-readers, mobile phones or laptops close to bedtime. Research has shown that these devices confuse your natural rhythm and cause cortisol levels to rise. Your body may be confusing this for the sun rising, throwing out its natural body clock. This stimulates the stress hormone to be released and prevents you from falling asleep when you get into bed. You go through natural stages of light and deep sleep. Deep sleep (REM sleep) is needed to re-energise your body. Studies have shown that using white light-emitting devices can actually restrict the amount of deep sleep you obtain throughout the night. This can leave you feeling lethargic in the morning, despite achieving a good amount of sleep.