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Your sleep cycle. Your mood. Related?

Sleep is one of the most important factors for health and wellbeing. It helps your body recharge each day. When you don’t get enough, it can significantly impact your mood, energy, concentration, memory, appetite, metabolism and hormones. Sleep matters!

I often talk about sleep in clinic and you may have noticed that I often reference it as a therapeutic tool when discussing a number of different health conditions on this blog. I’ve also written about the importance of sleep hygiene for cultivating better sleep.

So we’ve established that getting sleep is important, but what about when you sleep?

Does your sleep cycle affect your mood and behaviour?

An interesting study was published this month, looking at the behavioural differences between people who go to sleep early and those who stay up late. Sleep chronotypes describe your preference for rising early or staying up late – the time during which your body functions best. Early risers are morning sleep chronotypes and stay-up-late folk are evening sleep chronotypes.

What the researchers found was that those individuals who identified as evening sleep chronotypes were more likely to exhibit personality and behavioural traits associated with the ‘Dark Triad’ (i.e. narcissism, psychopathy, and Machiavellianism).

My favourite quote in this paper, which is also the final line, is an absolute humdinger: “In short, those high on the Dark Triad traits like many other predators (e.g., lions, African hunting dogs, scorpions), are creatures of the night.” Creatures of the night! Take THAT night owls! Or should I say… night scorpions?

All jokes aside, this does highlight an interesting correlation between those who go to bed late and a number of unhealthy physical and emotional outcomes. However, is that what makes you stay up late (you creature of the night!) or are the negative health outcomes a result of irregular sleep patterns and an imbalanced circadian rhythm? I’d like to think the latter. Which means, by cultivating healthier habits and resetting your sleep clock (even marginally), you will be more in sync with the world around you and less likely to display those negative attributes you’ve been otherwise assigned.

Are you an early bird? A night owl? Do you reckon it impacts your health?

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REFERENCE: Jonason P et al 2013. Pers Individ Dif. 55(5): 538-541

Sleep easy

Sleep is the time when our bodies recharge. If we don’t get enough shut-eye, it can be hard to get through the days and weeks that fill our busy lives… we end up functioning less effectively, looking puffy and feeling awful. No thanks.

Sometimes, though, it can be hard to create a healthy sleep pattern. Any number of factors may interfere with our attempts to get to sleep on time and stay that way until the morning.

How to combat this?

Simple dietary measures can make a big difference. Another important influence is sleep hygiene – as this sets the tone for the quality (and quantity) of sleep you enjoy.

What do I mean by sleep hygiene? Well, it’s basically a pattern of behaviour that can set you up for a restful night:

1. Create a comfortable bed and a relaxing bedroom environment.

2. Keep your bed as a place only for sleep and sex. (What a wonderful place!)

3. Maintain a comfortable temperature in your bedroom, preferably not too hot or cold. Keep the room well ventilated so that you have plenty of fresh air.

4. Use a light-blocking window shade / curtain – particularly if you’re sensitive to light.

5. Don’t fall asleep with the TV on – in fact, get that television out of your bedroom all together. The same applies to laptops and gratuitous use of mobile phones – what is it with people being unable to (temporarily) separate from technology? It can wait until tomorrow.

6. Set a consistent time that you go to bed each night and wake up each morning. And even when you don’t fall asleep as early as you’d like, still wake up at the same time each morning. Also avoid sleeping late on the weekends – tempting though it is. One more thing: try not to nap during the day. An occasional disco nap is acceptable, but a daily snooze can wreak havoc with your body clock.

7. If you haven’t fallen asleep after around half an hour, get up and do something else until you feel tired again. Staying in bed and worrying about sleep (or lack thereof) will only prolong your insomnia. Plus, you’ll start to associate your bed with worry.

8. Avoid caffeine 4-6 hours before bedtime – it will perk you up.

9. Avoid alcohol 4-6 hours before heading to bed. Although people often associate a nightcap with relaxation, it actually disrupts your sleep pattern.

10. Exercise regularly – obviously, it’s good for you – but try to avoid over-exertion within 2 hours of heading to bed. That’s the time when you should be winding down, not firing up.

Oh.. sleepy koala

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