Balance January 2020 - 40

BODY & SOUL
GOOD NIGHTS

The reality is there is no single solution to
getting a good night's sleep, but ensuring an
effective bedtime routine is not a bad place to
start. The logic for this is that our sleep - as with
other bodily functions, such as alertness and
pain threshold - is controlled in part by internal
body clocks, tweaked by the environment.
We are, therefore, better suited to sleeping
at certain times compared to other times. If
we stick to a routine, our body knows what it
should be doing and when. On the flip side,
when we alter our routine, such as if we go to
bed much later at the weekend compared with
in the week, things can go awry. For example,
we can experience 'social jetlag', which involves
jetlag-like symptoms, as our bodies effectively
shift between two time zones.
Consistency is useful, but the activities we do
in the build-up to bedtime are important, too.
Forget the 'nightcap' - alcohol might help us to
drift off, but unsurprisingly it disrupts our sleep
during the second half of the night. Instead,
thinking about our activities during the day can
be helpful: exercise is beneficial, as is reducing
caffeine intake.
In the hour before bedtime, avoid screentime and opt for relaxing activities, such as

rest
assured

40

taking a bath. (Bathing leads to a drop in core
body temperature, which helps us to drift off.)
Routine is not only useful for adults -
children benefit from a consistent bedtime
routine, too. Some children find it tricky to
unwind in the period before bed, and bedtime
ends up being a challenge for the entire family.
For this reason, as a professor of psychology
who focuses on sleep, I developed a book that
incorporates relaxation techniques, such as
imagery, muscle relaxation and mindfulness,
into stories.
Co-author Christy Kirkpatrick and I came up
with five stories, about a pebble, tree, snail,
giraffe and pig, that require children to imagine
the worlds of the characters, squeeze and

IF WE STICK
TO A ROUTINE,
OUR BODY
KNOWS WHAT
IT SHOULD BE
DOING AND
WHEN

release items in the stories, such as a pebble,
and take time to be in the present moment
before falling asleep. Each story is beautifully
illustrated in a dream-like style with calming
colours by artist Eleanor Hardiman.
The ideas for the stories are the culmination
of the literature I have read and contributed
towards over many years as a sleep researcher.
While the book was written for children, the
techniques are relevant for adults, too. Practising
mindfulness, meditation and relaxation at
bedtime can help the brain to switch off
from the stresses of the day, which, in turn,
increases the likelihood of drifting off
into a night of peaceful, good quality and
unbroken sleep.
With 2020 now under way, and the endless
possibilities that each New Year brings, it might
be worth considering your bedtime routine to
make sure you get a truly restful night's sleep
and wake up feeling properly refreshed.
To get the very most from our days, we
mustn't forget the nights.

Alice Gregory is a professor of psychology
who focuses on sleep research
Nodding Off: The Science Of Sleep From
Cradle To Grave (Bloomsbury, hardback
£16.99) is out now
The Sleepy Pebble And Other Stories:
Calming Tales To Read At Bedtime (Flying
Eye Books, £12.99) is out now



Balance January 2020

Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of Balance January 2020

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