Taking Control of Your Sleep Environment

Dr Nicola Barclay, University of Oxford Sleep Scientist, and John Tuton, Mammoth Founder, discuss how the environment you sleep in can impact your sleep quality.

NB: I have suffered from insomnia for many years and it has taken work to actually get to that state to be able to put my head on the pillow and fall asleep. And so even though what I’m going to say at another point is that sleep itself is an automatic process, you know, we can’t control when we’re going to fall asleep, but we can control the environment at which we are going to go to sleep in and we can control the day and we can control those hours leading up to the night time.

An important thing as well, that I should have mentioned is I strictly control light exposure. So, we know that light is an alerting signal and light hits a very deep centre of our brain, which control our sleep-wake cycle, the suprachiasmatic nucleus. So, light from the sun or from the rooms that we’re in travels through a particular pathway through our eyes and stimulates the cells of a suprachiasmatic nucleus and this SEN then tells the rest of the rest of the cells in the body whether it’s time to be awake or time to be asleep.

So light actually works as an alerting signal and when we are needing to go to sleep, the light actually inhibits a hormone called melatonin. So melatonin is sometimes called the hormone of darkness. It’s secreted in dim light conditions in almost darkness, and it physiologically makes us sleepy and we need melatonin to get to sleep. So if we are exposing ourselves to lots of bright light in the evening, then we actually delay the onset of melatonin. So we are able to stay awake later and later and later with lots of bright light exposure.

So one way to to help yourself get to sleep easier is to reduce your light exposure in the evening in the hours leading up to bedtime. So, for the last two hours of my day, from eight thirty to ten thirty, I have very dim lights all over the house. You will not see me putting any lights on. And we know that even a very short flick of a switch of a light pulse is enough to reset the circadian rhythm and so it’s really important not to switch on on the bathroom lights just before bed.

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Watch the full interview here.