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How to reset your sleep cycle

“Can death be sleep, when life is but a dream?”                                                                                                                                  

 John Keats

Sleep is a sedentary state of mind and body characterized by altered consciousness, inhibited sensory activity, reduced muscle activity and reduced interactions with surroundings.
Nowadays, the large use of artificial blue light emitted by smartphone and television screens has substantially altered humanity’s circadian rhythm sleep patterns, hence disrupting the release of the hormone melatonin needed to regulate the sleep cycle. Short sleep duration of less than seven hours has been linked with coronary heart disease, stroke, increased risk of obesity, mental illness such as major depressive disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder, psychosis, suicide and inaycreased risk of death in general.
Sleep health can be improved through implementing good sleep hygiene habits, which in turn, will improve your physical and mental health, by providing your body with the necessary rejuvenation only restful sleep can provide. Some ways to improve sleep health include going to sleep at consistent times every night, avoiding any electronic devices such as televisions and phones in the bedroom, getting adequate exercise throughout the day, and avoiding caffeine in the hours before going to sleep. Another way to greatly improve sleep hygiene is by creating a peaceful and relaxing sleep environment. Sleeping in a dark and clean peaceful room, with things like a white noise maker can help facilitate restful sleep.
On the other hand, drugs such as opioids and hypnotics, induce sleep admittedly, but disrupt sleep architecture and sleep stage distribution. Likewise, consuming high amounts of the stimulant caffeine can result in interrupted sleep patterns and sometimes sleep deprivation. This vicious cycle can result in drowsiness, which can then result in a higher consumption of caffeine in order to stay awake the next day. This cycle can lead to decreased cognitive function and an overall feeling of fatigue. Also, drugs which amplify or inhibit endocrine and immune system secretions, such as the growth hormone releasing hormone receptor agonist MK-677 has been shown to increase REM in older adults, as well as stage IV sleep in younger adults by approximately 50%.
Dietary and nutritional choices may affect sleep duration and quality as well. A high-carbohydrate diet promotes a shorter onset to sleep and a longer duration of sleep than a high-fat diet. Mixed micronutrients and macronutrients are needed to promote quality sleep. A varied diet comprising of fresh fruits and vegetables, low saturated fat and whole grains may be optimal for individuals seeking to improve sleep quality.

Now, concretely speaking, if your sleep schedule has been off for quite a while, what is the first step to fix it and get your body clock back on track?..

Naturally, there is a reason we tend to feel sleepy around the same time each night: our bodies tend to want to follow consistent sleep patterns, which is key for getting the high-quality sleep we need. We can send our bodies signals to adjust our sleep schedules and reset our body clocks, which in turn regulate our bodies’ circadian rhythms, the patterns of physical, mental, and behavioural changes, including sleep patterns, regulated by body temperature, hormone secretion, and external factors like light and darkness.
If you have fallen into a sleep schedule that is not working for you, because you are having trouble getting up in the morning, staying up later than you want, what can you do? Try taking these steps to get your sleep patterns on the track which works for you:

1. Adjust your bedtime, but be patient. If you are aiming to go to sleep earlier, try slowly scaling back your bedtime until you are at the desired hour. For example, you could go in small increments, adjusting fifteen minutes earlier every two or three days.

2. Do not nap, even if you are tired. Napping can interfere with going to sleep at night. When you feel like napping, scheduling exercise will actually chase away the sleepiness. Consequently, you will save up that drive to sleep for later.

3. Do not sleep in, and get up at the same time each day. Being consistent is important in maintaining a functioning sleep schedule. Get a good alarm clock, and do not hit snooze! The brain expects that people more or less wake up at the same time every day. The clock in your head needs instructions. Once you are in a good pattern when it comes to bed and wake times, stick to it as best you can. Even one late night can disrupt the progress you have made. Predictability is key.

4, Avoid exposure to light before sleep. Research shows that exposure to evening light can shift your body clock to a later schedule. Light send signals to the brain that it is time to be awake. If you are trying to go to sleep earlier, avoid bright and outdoor light close to bedtime, including light from cell phone, laptop and TV screens, and keep your surroundings dim at night.

5. Avoid exercise too close to bedtime. While staying active during the day promotes good sleep, a workout too close to bedtime can keep the brain and body on by upping heart rate and body temperature, and make it tougher to sleep. If you are choosing to exercise later in the day, consider low- or moderate-intensity workouts, which will be less stimulating; and be sure to incorporate a cooldown at the end of your workout.

6. Watch what you eat close to bedtime. Try to avoid snacks packed with sugar, which will cause a sugar spike, as well as caffeine and nicotine, which are both stimulants. Spicy acidic foods may also cause acidity and heartburn. You can reach for a light snack like cherries or kiwis, which are rich in melatonin and have a low glycaemic index.

7. Set the mood and create a relaxing bedtime routine. Take a warm bath and play relaxing music, make sure that your bed is comfortable, that the room is dark and silent, and that the temperature is not too warm. Try to go to bed in a state of appreciation.

8. Use sunlight to your advantage. Exposure to sunlight when you wake up helps tell your body that it is time to wake up, and set your circadian rhythm for the day, so that your body feels sleepy when it is time to go to bed. A sunset walk is ideal to let your body know that it is soon time to release melatonin.
Changing your sleep schedule with the proper discipline can be done easily even though gradually if done consistently. Please don’t beat up or get upset with yourself, because it just makes the problem worse. Know that sleep will come eventually, and that, worst case scenario, deep relaxation and meditation in a dark environment will rejuvenate your body-mind by releasing delta brainwaves in your brain and make you feel refreshed and fully restored when you awake in the morning. So, just relax, breathe deeply, get cosy, be in a state of appreciation, for no reason at all, and… have a blissfully restful sleep! Good night!..

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