Do you compulsively check your work emails during the evening or carry on responding to texts and logging on to Facebook while you’re getting ready for bed?
The social media and smartphone revolution has turned us into a nation of communication addicts. But this constant desire to be ‘connected’ has infiltrated our private time, depriving us of the chance to unwind in preparation for a good night’s sleep.
Not surprisingly, a recent study of students found that excessive texting was directly linked to insomnia with the higher the number of daily texts, the greater the sleep issues.
But it’s not just texting that affects our stress levels and our ability to switch off and unwind before bed.
Thanks to the smartphone explosion, we’re now able to check our social networks and work emails around the clock, too.
The boundaries between work and down time are becoming increasingly blurred as bosses and colleagues can ‘virtually’ get into bed with us; it’s little wonder so many of us lie in bed at night worrying about work.
This smartphone-stress, coupled with the cold, dark mornings that lie ahead when the clocks go back, doesn’t bode well for our sleep patterns and energy levels.
So how do we combat these sleep thieves to ensure we fall asleep fully relaxed and spring out of bed feeling energised? We asked the experts.
Have a tech-free hour before bed
Dr Nerina Ramlakhan, Sleep and Energy Coach at Capio Nightingale Hospital and author of Tired But Wired, suggests “Switch off your phone and computer an hour before bedtime to allow yourself some technology-free time to ‘unload’ work thoughts from your memory. This will help to reduce the amount of time you spend in REM (dreaming and information processing) sleep and increase your nourishing, deep sleep quota.”
Unplug so you can recharge
Dr Ramlakhan explains that you should never sleep with your phone, laptop or tablet plugged in and recharging next to you in bed as psychologically you will still be ‘plugged in’.
Take regular breaks
We have a natural 90-minute energy cycle, the ultradian rhythm, which means we are designed to build pauses into our day to renew our energy levels, according to Dr Ramlakhan. “Get up, stretch and go and talk to someone, eat something, focus your eyes on a different plane. Set a timer or use a visual cue to remind you to take a break.”
Switch off on your commute
“Turn off your phone or laptop 15 to 20 minutes before you get home and use the time to daydream. This helps to empty the working memory and creates a vital transition between work and home so that you are able to really engage and be present to what is really important in your life.”
Prioritise face-to-face communication
“Take time to nurture real relationships that are free of technology - this means face to face contact or actually speaking over the phone. Research shows that people who merely interact by social networking are adversely changing the structure of the 'neocortex' area of the brain, which is used for social engagement and forming relationships and is where our 'emotional intelligence' comes from.”
Lay off the booze
Alcohol might seem like the perfect way to switch off from work but in fact, although it is a relaxant, it also impairs deep sleep quality so you are likely to wake up feeling tired.
Beat the clock-change
When the clocks have gone back, the dark mornings can make it harder than ever to wake up. But while it might feel like the last thing you want to do, getting up and opening the curtains is the best way to kick start your day. Specialist in sleep disorders, Dr Hugh Selsick says “One should expose oneself to bright light immediately after waking.”
Avoid the snooze button
It might seem like you’re getting in some bonus shut-eye by continually hitting the snooze button but Dr Selsick explains, “The light dozing people experience after the alarm sounds doesn’t add much in terms of making people feel rested. In fact, he adds: “Using the snooze can have a negative effect on their overall sleep pattern.”
Combat the winter blues
Counteract the effects of fewer daylight hours by taking every opportunity to get outside in the fresh air. A brisk lunchtime walk will not only top up your vitamin D levels, but the exercise will also help to aid restful sleep.