What is sleep syncing, and how can you try it?
Try the wellbeing trick that could transform the quality of your sleep
When the quality of our sleep plays such an important role in our overall wellbeing – as well as our ability to successfully navigate our jobs, relationships, and responsibilities – it makes sense that we want to get it right.
That said, finding what’s right for us may take some time, and is likely to require a bit of trial and error. For one person, it may be playing sleep sounds as they fall asleep, for another it could be about changing their diet, or perhaps beginning a journaling practice in order to let go of the worries that usually keep them up at night.
But now, there’s a new option that could be the answer for you: sleep syncing. All about tuning into your body's natural circadian rhythm, sleep syncing requires you to think about, and adapt, your daily routine to line-up with what your body naturally wants to do.
“Your circadian rhythm, otherwise known as your sleep-wake cycle, is your internal body clock which follows a 24 hour cycle and is influenced by many internal and external factors as well as light and dark,” Martin Seeley, sleep expert and CEO of Mattress Next Day explains. “It works to control hormone release such as melatonin and helps keep your body in a good routine.
“Sleep syncing is when you create a routine that ensures your body is sleeping and waking when it should be, giving your internal clock a gentle nudge. Sleep syncing can help improve sleep quality, increase energy levels, and help to maintain a healthy body.”
How do I sleep sync?
Let’s be honest for a minute, most of us have a routine that we have to abide by to some extent – whether that means sleeping around work, caring responsibilities, or anything else. But that doesn’t mean that sleep syncing won’t work for us. Instead, it’s about gradually aligning our lifestyle with our biological rhythms in order to wake up feeling refreshed and energised. So, how do we do it?
1. Work out what your schedule should be
As Martin points out, going to bed and waking up at the same time every day (yes, even on weekends and days off work) is a great way to regulate your body’s internal clock – which will, in turn, make it easier for you to fall asleep and wake up. So, have a think about what times work for you. The average adult needs eight hours of sleep each night to feel refreshed and energised, but you may find that you need more or less. Experiment with different lengths, perhaps noting how you feel in a journal or sleep tracker. Once you’ve got a good idea of how long you need to be asleep, you can then plan for what time you should go to bed, and when you should set your alarm for in the morning.
You may also want to think about establishing a calming bedtime routine. Perhaps incorporating some self-care, journaling, reading, or light yoga.
2. Try to get natural sunlight in the morning
Don’t underestimate the power of the sun in regulating our bodies.
“Waking up to natural light can be a great way to wake up,” Martin explains. “This notifies our circadian rhythm that it's time to get up.”
When you wake up in the morning, try to get into the habit of opening the curtains, and letting the light fall on you. You may even want to take a few steps outside – and you can then breath in the fresh morning air to make this a mindful experience.
Of course, during the winter, this might not be an option, but Martin recommends SAD (seasonal affective disorder) lamps, which are lamps that replicate the sunlight.
“You're more likely to experience cognitive benefits such as improved concentration and memory when you wake up from light, rather than sound such as an alarm,” he explains. “Furthermore, it has been noted that increased light in your home helps to improve your overall well being, increase energy and productivity.”
3. Think carefully about caffeine
A caffeinated drink can be great for giving us a boost when we need it, but they can also throw us off our natural rhythm – particularly if we’re more sensitive to caffeine.
“Drinking too much caffeine too late in the day can leave you feeling wired well into the evening, and whilst this may be useful if you are heading to the gym or have evening plans, you may find it harder to drift off to sleep when it's bedtime,” Martin says. “Try to reduce the amount of coffee you have each day, and ensure your last one is early afternoon so the caffeine has time to leave your system before you head to bed. If you’re a bit of a coffee enthusiast, you may want to switch to decaf so you can enjoy the flavour without all the caffeine.”
4. Be aware of bright lights at night
“Using your phone, laptop or ipads right before bed can have an adverse effect on your sleep hygiene and could promote a disturbed sleep or interfere with your sleep quality,” Martin explains. “Exposure to bright light, especially from electronic devices, can disrupt your body’s production of the sleep hormone melatonin, making it harder to fall asleep.”
To the best of your ability, try to limit the amount of time you spend on tech in the evenings. You may want to try to tackle things by making your bedroom a tech-free zone. Or you could commit to putting your phone down before doing a mindful practice as the last thing you do before bed.
5. Try to avoid taking naps
When we’re feeling tired and drained, settling down for a quick nap is incredibly tempting. But it might be doing more harm than good.
“Napping throughout the day is one of the worst things you can do for your sleep cycle, and can throw your routine completely off,” Martin says. “The best thing you can do is get into a regular sleep routine and try your best to stick to it. You need to be strict with yourself at night, so if you are tired and feel yourself falling asleep on the sofa, get yourself up, washed and into bed so you won't be disturbed in the night.”
6. Eat for your circadian rhythm
“Circadian eating is a thing, and means that you are eating during certain hours of the day so as to not upset your digestive system or cause sleep problems,” Martin explains. “Try to avoid eating heavy meals in the evening or late at night. Ideally you should be starting your day with a good breakfast to fuel you throughout the day, a substantial lunch, and a lighter dinner. This will allow your body to be comfortable when it's time to sleep.”
Read our guide on what to eat to get a good night’s sleep to learn more about the best foods for sleep syncing.
“By incorporating these strategies into your daily routine, you may be able to sync your sleep schedule with your body’s natural circadian rhythm and improve your overall sleep quality,” Martin says. “It may take some time to establish a consistent routine, but with patience and persistence, you can create healthy sleep habits that work for you.”
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