Why having a proper 'bedtime' as an adult is the key to a great night's sleep

What else beats a decent night of slumber? If you're a night owl - or if you suffer from insomnia - probably many other things that might prevent you from hitting the hay. Kids who stubbornly refuse to settle down, Netflix, work worries, a penchant for midnight snacking (we won't tell if you won't) or good, old-fashioned sleep anxiety; all seem like reasonable reasons by which you might be prevented from sleeping at the same time every night.

Because while we drill the importance of bedtime as a regimented routine into our kids (for example), we neglect to treat ourselves with the same level of care. Not every adult will go to bed at the same time for all of the above reasons and more, yet this might be the very reason we can't drift into the land of nod as we should be and the reason for poor health.

Not only is a regular bedtime just about the most enjoyable habit ever (who else gleefully anticipates sleep even when they've just stumbled out of bed at the crack of dawn?) but it is extremely good for us. A recent study, surveying a group of nearly 2,000 “healthy” sleepers (i.e. no one with a sleep disorders) between the ages of 45 and 84,  found that adults who experience insufficient sleep duration, interrupted sleep cycles, and irregular bed- and waking-times face increased cardiometabolic risk, which means they were at risk for health issues like cardiovascular disease, greater obesity, and diabetes.

While the researchers from the Duke University Medical Center acknowledge that their study only shows an association between irregular sleep and this cardiometabolic risk, it’s naturally likely that irregular sleep contributes to other patterns which may also result in other health issues, such as increased stress and depression.

A Bedtime routine is all about going back to basics

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Yes, we know.  'Who lives their life in this way?!' we hear some of you cry.  But simply put, a bedtime routine is a set of repeated behaviours that prep your mind and body for good sleep. Over time, your brain recognises these behaviours as precursors to sleep, which makes it easier once you get into bed. In short: it means you'll get optimal levels of sleep; the kind the refreshes and revives you as opposed to the sort that you're getting simply because your body is utterly exhausted. And if you can get yourself to get in bed at (or near) the same time every night, and wake up at the same time every morning, your body should start to adjust accordingly. Even without science to back this up, we know of its benefits - this writer has a sister who is in bed no later than 9.30 pm every night and swears she's never felt better as a result.

How can you get yours down to (a preferably sheep-counting) art?

Some helpful pointers:

  • Reduce the noise, light and heat in your sleeping environment.
  • Keep out everything else, bar using the bed for sleep and sex - any other activity means your time to wind down to rest will be associated with the opposite.  This means no laptops, no TV, and even no smartphones at least two hours before you intend to sleep (the ScreenTime function on iOS should help you keep this away - it clocks up every second you use on your phone and the results may shock you).
  • No coffee after the afternoon has passed - you may think you're immune to the caffeine but even a small dose significantly disrupts your sleep even taken 6 hours before.
  • Get ready to wind down - find out what relaxes you and do it regularly and 20 minutes before bed as if you make it a habit; it will help your body recognise that sleep is on its way.
  • Find your routine - and stick to it. The more you do, the more your body will recognise the pattern, and make a night of truly great sleep happen every day if you're lucky.

Now, go count those Zzz's...

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