Understand your sleep habits better and take steps to optimise your sleep environment.
With long, dark nights and cold temperatures, the cosy winter months might seem like the ideal time for sleep, but in reality, many of us find our sleep routines disrupted.
After a tough year all round, we deserve a restful night’s sleep this winter – and if it’s one thing health and wellbeing specialist Mammoth knows all about, its sleep and the importance of the right sleep environment. The award-winning company is sharing some handy advice, to help you enjoy better sleep through the season.
Sleep and the winter months
We may wish we could hibernate our way through the winter months (especially this year), but too much sleep can actually leave us feeling more tired and sluggish through the day.
The darker mornings and evenings can play havoc with our sleep-wake cycle. Sunlight is critically important for our mood and energy levels, helping to moderate the body’s internal clock (circadian rhythm). Fewer hours of sunlight mean our levels of melatonin (the hormone which makes us feel sleepy) start rising earlier compared to the summer months, while levels of the hormone which stabilises our mood, serotonin, decrease.
It’s more difficult to spend time in the sun when the light fades faster and the temperature drops. And it’s even harder now that so many of us are working from home, allowing days to go by without leaving the house. The result of this is a disrupted circadian rhythm which makes a good night’s sleep more of a challenge.
That’s why it’s important to increase your sunlight exposure when you can during the winter months. Try to get some sunlight before work and go for a brisk lunchtime walk, which doubles up as good exercise.
How good sleep can help our mental and physical health
Time and time again, research has shown how important sleep is for both our mental and physical health. Over time, sleep deprivation can put us at increased risk of serious health conditions, including heart disease, diabetes, anxiety and depression.
But if we ask ourselves honestly: how often do we take our sleep for granted and recognise the vital role it plays in keeping us healthy?
Many of us feel the winter blues or a change in mood during the winter – and it’s been a stressful year to say the least. But if your low mood is affecting more aspects of life, you may be suffering with Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). SAD is a type of depression, which is often more severe in the winter. It can leave you feeling more lethargic and sleepy during the day, while you might sleep for longer and find it harder to get up in the morning.
Alternative methods of light, such as a SAD lamp, can help – this mirrors the impact the sun has on our energy levels.
As well as getting plenty of natural daylight and exercise, which increases serotonin and endorphins, a good sleep routine is vital for everyone. When we enjoy better sleep, it gives our health a boost.
That goes for our general health, too. Our immune system is responsible for providing resistance to infections and toxins. There are many things that can impact its effectiveness – including sleep. A lack of sleep has a close relationship with a weakened immune system.
Helping it to perform at the optimum level has never been more relevant than it is this winter, in the midst of the Covid-19 pandemic.
Although sleep alone isn’t a magic cure to all ailments, it’s clear that good sleep is one of the foundations of better health. Sleep can help your immune system stay strong so that you can recover better if you contract an illness, it can improve your attention span, help you maintain a healthy weight, keep your heart healthy and look after your mental health.
What’s not to love about sleep!
If we put in place a good sleep routine and create a calming environment to help us relax and unwind, we can enjoy the many health benefits associated with better sleep.
Create the right sleep routine
We all have an in-built circadian rhythm, which dictates the timing of a number of physiological processes, including when it is time to sleep and when it is time to be awake.
Sleep is a personalised thing, and everyone sleeps slightly differently. The average adult needs roughly between seven and nine hours sleep a night, but it can be slightly more or less. If we are aware of that, we can work out what’s right for us.
You’ve probably heard of night owls and morning larks – this is what we call our chronotype. We all have an individual chronotype, the timing we are particularly awake and when we start to feel sleepy. Whatever our chronotype, it’s important to prioritise our sleep and try to stick to consistent bedtimes and wake times.
We mentioned earlier the crucial role light plays in the sleep-wake cycle. In the evening, when we need to sleep, if we expose ourselves to lots of bright light, we can inhibit melatonin production and stay awake later. That includes phones, tablets and computers, which emit blue wavelength light. So, to help the sleep routine, reduce your light exposure in the evening and the hours leading up to bedtime. And put the phone away!
In the hours before bedtime, building relaxation time into your routine is a good way to rest your mind before sleep – and avoid taking your worries to bed. Have some quiet time to yourself, free from anxiety provoking stimuli – watching TV, listening to music, reading a book, or having a soothing bath.
Stay away from caffeine and alcohol in the lead up to bedtime, as they can negatively affect your sleep.
Then, start the next day off the right way, with a morning routine that you look forward to before work – whether it’s a tasty, healthy breakfast, a Winter walk or a spot of yoga – your body and mind will thank you.
Your sleep environment
Your sleep space should be your sanctuary, the place you unwind to after a long day.
Many of us are working from home due to the pandemic and our work and personal lives are more blurred. While the short commute from bed to work is clearly a bonus, we can also forget to put in place important boundaries.
Not everybody has the luxury of a home office. Some people might have enough space in the kitchen or a spare room, but many may have no choice but to work in the bedroom.
Whatever your set-up, it’s vital to create a distinction between the workspace and the sleep space. It’s not surprising if it’s a struggle to get to sleep in the place you’ve been working in all day. Subconsciously, your mind will still be on work.
Give yourself a clear cut off point from work and have a time limit for when you stop checking your emails. When you finish, hide away all work-related things like your laptop and notebooks. Relax and have time for you. You will feel more productive the next day!
The bedroom itself is your haven. The ideal sleep environment should be cool, dark, quiet and uncluttered. Make sure you have lovely, soft fresh sheets and a supportive pillow – and of course, the right mattress (more on that later!).
We tend to rely more on our central heating in the winter, but switching on your heating too often – and too close to bedtime – could negatively impact your sleep.
If your bedroom is too warm or too cold, it can disrupt your body’s natural sleeping process. Our brain and body need to be cool to get to sleep. Artificial heat, like that produced by your radiators, creates warm and dry air which can lead to dehydration and dried out mucus membranes. If you have your heating on at night, you’re more likely to wake up with a dry mouth or an intense thirst, preventing you from falling back to sleep.
The optimum bedroom temperature should fall a little on the cooler side, between 16 and 18 degrees. This temperature mimics your body’s natural hibernation state, encouraging restful sleep.
There are a few other simple things we can do to try to drop our body temperature. One is to have a hot bath in the hours before bed. Although it sounds counter-intuitive, when we get out of a hot bath and hit cool air, our body temperature drops dramatically. The process mimics the natural process of our body cooling and helps to facilitate sleep.
Another tip which sounds counter-intuitive is to keep your feet warm at night. Wearing bed socks can actually cool us down, as heat travels from our core to the periphery when we cool. Keeping our extremities warm helps us lose heat and cools the body by transferring the heat from our feet to the cooler environment of the bedroom.
Your sleep surface is key
The right sleep surface is crucial, to encourage comfortable, restorative sleep and create the best possible sleep environment. The wrong mattress won’t support you properly, won’t alleviate pressure from head to toe and may even make you wake feeling hot and achy in the morning.
A truly comfortable mattress on the other hand, plays a huge part in keeping you relaxed and refreshed, easing the aches and pains of the day.
As a company that has worked for more than a decade with elite athletes and organisations who consistently feel the pressure of peak performance, Mammoth knows all too well that sleep is as important to your health as eating a balanced diet and maintaining a regular exercise routine. It allows both your body and brain to recover and perform essential repair work, helping you face the day and process information.
Mammoth’s mattress range is a healthy choice. From its healthcare roots, it features award-winning comfort technologies, such as natural cooling Medical Grade foam™, which have been scientifically tested and shown to improve sleep.
A specialist in sleep and its benefits to both mental and physical health, the company is passionate about raising awareness of the importance of sleep, recovery and comfort, to support a healthy lifestyle.
Mammoth is an official partner of the Chartered Society of Physiotherapy and endorsed by health professionals.
For many people, another side effect of working from home has been the effect on posture and more aches and pains. The right mattress can help you live a more active, comfortable and pain-free life.
As well as maintaining a healthy body, a good sleep surface can help the mind. If it’s easier to get off to sleep and put your worries to bed, it can avoid stress and anxiety turning into a bigger problem. Fatigue and restlessness is shown to exacerbate anxiety and cause it to spiral. Get the sleep environment right and the benefits are wider reaching than you might think.
Rest easy this winter with a Mammoth. As a Lifestyle Guide reader, you’re eligible for a special 40% off via Mammoth's exclusive member-only platform at www.mammothperks.co.uk. Apply code TLG40 at checkout.
Thank you to Dr Nicola Barclay, from the University of Oxford’s Sleep and Circadian Neuroscience Institute, who has supported this article with her expert advice. Dr Barclay is one of the country’s leading sleep scientists and has been a Mammoth ambassador for a number of years.