To celebrate the renewal of our partnership with the British Athletes Commission (BAC), we put athletes’ questions on sleep in a Q&A to Mammoth ambassador and renowned Lecturer in Sleep Medicine at the University of Oxford, Dr Nicola Barclay.
BAC: So what would an optimum sleep bedtime routine look like?
NB: Well, the bedtime routine really starts from the moment we get up in the morning in order to sleep well, we need to manage effectively what we do and the time we do things during the day. And this comes down to caffeine use, timing of meals, timing of exercise, light exposure and allowing wind down time. So let’s take some of these in turn. So caffeine, caffeine has a half life of around five hours, meaning its effects take five hours to reduce by half. So imagine we had a double espresso at 5pm, by 10pm we still have the equivalent of a single espresso shot keeping us alert. Would we really want to have an espresso at 10pm? So I always recommend no caffeine after midday.
Timing of exercise impacts on sleep, vigorous activity in the hours leading up to bedtime simply delay sleep onset. When we exercise our body temperature increases, we’re highly alert and exercise stimulates the release of dopamine, noradrenaline and serotonin. So whilst all these hormones are great for mental and physical health, they’re a part of the wake promoting system in the brain. Higher circulating levels of these monoamines as a result of exercise in the evening, will make it hard for your brain to quieten that wake promoting system, making it really hard to get to sleep. So I recommend not exercising in the hours leading up to sleep.
And also light exposure, we’ve already mentioned a little bit about light and saying that it’s the most important time giver for our biological clock it is really important to make sure that light levels are dim in the two to three hours leading up to bedtime to allow your brain to secrete melatonin, which prepares the brain for sleep.
And then finally wind down time. It’s vitally important to factor in wind down time before you intend to go to bed. You can’t expect your brain to go full wake to sleep without a nice calming transition. You don’t stop car driving at 30 miles an hour to an immediate stop, you gradually slow down and that’s exactly what we need to do to get to sleep. So for the hour, maybe two hours before bed, you could dedicate quiet, relaxing time, have bath, read a book, watch a TV programme, one that’s not too stimulating, do mindfulness or yoga or stretching. Just make sure you factor in at least one hour before you get to bed. Make sure you do all these activities in dim light. But you could also even get ready for bed, you could put your pyjamas on, brush your teeth, before you can start your wind down time and I do this. I do this a couple of hours before my bedtime and then at the end of the wind down, you can simply just get in bed. No need to turn on the bathroom light to brush your teeth, no need to wake yourself up and get changed. You’re already done. You simply get in bed at the end of your wind down.
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