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What's the secret to better sleep?

One in four of us struggles with sleep disorders, such as insomnia, but did you know your body clock could be to blame?

Learning how to rebalance your body’s natural rhythm could be the key to curing sleep disorders and finally getting a good night’s sleep.

What is your body clock?

Known as the circadian rhythm, this internal body clock is on automatic repeat every 24 hours. It helps regulate our sleep and other functions such as our eating habits and body temperature.

Our body clock resets itself each day by using signals from external timekeepers, such as light and dark. For example, when it gets dark at night, light-sensitive cells in our eyes send a message to our body clock causing it to inhibit the release of waking hormones cortisol and adrenaline, and increase the production of the sleep-promoting hormone melatonin.

Why your body clock goes wrong

Anything that upsets the 24-hour cycle, such as the clocks moving forwards or backwards, jet lag, shift work, or even just a very late night, can have a detrimental effect on our sleep patterns, leading to problems like insomnia.

Experts also blame our 24-hour society for the increase in insomnia symptoms. Rolling news, 24-hour supermarkets, internet access whenever we like – all this continual activity is only possible thanks to artificial light, but it confuses our circadian rhythms.

The result? Forcing your body to be alert and active at a time it should be asleep not only squeezes the time available for sleep, it also triggers a stress response in the body that lowers the immune system, and puts a strain on the heart.

How to reset your body clock

    • Get up and go to bed at the same time each day – even at weekends. There’s some evidence using an alarm clock that simulates daylight could help regulate your circadian rhythms. Check out the Lumie range of dawn simulators to help you wake up raring to go.
    • Limit your exposure to light during the night, such as cutting down on screen time a couple of hours before going to bed. Even if you have to get up to use the loo, try to use a torch or nightlight to stop yourself becoming fully awake.
    • Reset your body clock in advance if you’re affected by the clocks going forward. Move your bedtimes, wake times and meals forwards by 20 minutes every few days for two weeks before the clocks change. By the time the clocks go forward, you’re effectively an hour ahead anyway and experience no disruption.
    • Avoid stimulants such as caffeine or exercise close to bedtime. Caffeine stimulates the central nervous system, increasing heart rate and adrenaline production, and suppressing melatonin production. It takes between three to eight hours for the body to break down caffeine, so try soothing herbal teas such as chamomile before bed instead.

Get more information about insomnia and tackling tiredness in our dedicated section.

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This article has been adapted from longer features appearing in Healthy, the Holland & Barrett magazine. Advice is for information only and should not replace medical care. Please check with your GP before trying any remedies

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