Wake-Up Call: Lie in at your peril

Could rising at dawn make your more alert, energetic and focused for the rest of the day? Anna Tobin takes a look at this new wake-up call.

Before the advent of the electric light, our internal body clock – scientifically known as the circadian rhythm and area of our brains that responds to light – was set by the sun and the moon; we rose at dawn and went to bed at nightfall.

The advent of rolling TV and the Internet, emails pinging at all hours and twenty-four hour supermarkets, and even gyms has put an end to all that. We try and pack so much into our days and evenings that often the time we have and need for bed, and more importantly sleep, is sacrificed.

In turn, this is often blamed for the increase in insomnia. Estimates suggest that around one-third of the nation’s adults suffer from insomnia or difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep.

There is now a growing body of evidence that shows that resetting your internal body clock could help you sleep better and feel more alert and energetic during your waking hours.

Star risers
One of the founding fathers of the United States of America, Benjamin Franklin’s most famous sayings was: “Early to bed and early to rise makes a man healthy, wealthy, and wise.”

The number of incredibly successful people known to rise around dawn is testament that this saying definitely works for some. Tim Cook, the CEO of tech giant Apple Inc, is said to be working out in the gym at 5 a.m. Oprah Winfrey rises just after six for a morning workout followed by a meditation session, and Editor-in-Chief of Vogue, Anna Wintour is reportedly often on the tennis court before most people have tucked into their cereal.

With the days now getting longer and the sun rising a little earlier each day, it’s the perfect time of year to start going to bed a little earlier each evening so that you can slowly edge the start to your day closer to say 7 a.m. than 8 a.m. Maybe even do what Richard Branson, another high-achieving early riser does, and sleep with your curtains open so that the sun is your alarm clock.

There’s no need to push yourself into waking at the crack of dawn. No science has emerged yet to back up the idea that super early rising is good for your health and wellbeing. There could, however, be some health benefits to being an early bird, rather than a night owl though, says Sealy UK’s Chief Sleep Officer, Neil Robinson. “Recent studies have shown that compared with morning people, late-nighters are more likely to suffer from ill-health, including an increased risk of early death, psychological disorders and respiratory illness.

“Not only this, but allowing yourself an extra few hours’ sleep on the weekend can actually have a detrimental impact on your body clock. While we might all love a weekend lie-in, by allowing ourselves a later bedtime, and in turn a later wake-up time on the weekends, we inflict ‘social jet lag’ on ourselves, where our bodies are actually experiencing the same impact as they would from jet lag from a holiday.”

Ensuring that you wake at the same time each day is key, agrees life and sleep coach Michelle Audette. “I recommend that my clients keep a consistent wake-up time, even on the weekends. I prefer that after a tough night or difficult week, they schedule in an afternoon nap to catch up,” she says.

A set wake time
Whether you choose to wake at 5 a.m. or closer to 8 a.m., setting your wake time in stone should make it easier to schedule your day and ensure it’s more relaxing. Waking 90 minutes, instead of nine minutes, before you have to leave the house gives you time to eat and enjoy a proper breakfast, do some stretches and maybe take a walk or meditate. It gives you back ‘me’ time. And, once in this routine, you should find getting to sleep easier at night too.

Sleeping habits change with age
According to America’s National Sleep Foundation, older adults (aged 65+) need seven to eight hours sleep a day to feel their best, although as few as five hours and as many as nine may be appropriate. However, sleep quality is one aspect of health known to change with age, Explaining why this occurs, the Foundation says that changes in our brains are partially responsible for increased sleep trouble: ‘As you get older, the neurological receptors that connect with sleep-signaling chemicals weaken, meaning your brain has a harder time figuring out when you’re actually tired. In addition, the risk for physical and psychiatric illnesses increases with age, and these conditions – along with the medications that treat them – can make sleeping more difficult.’

Many insomniacs spend a lot of their time trying to get to sleep stressing about why they can’t sleep, which only makes the problem worse. As you age your sleeping requirements change too, says Audette. “Your need for seven to eight hours sleep doesn’t change, but being able to get it all in one block does. Recognising this, firstly lets people not stress about it – it’s just a natural change, and also do something about it.
“Quick 30-minute naps can be very restorative and beneficial. Making some small changes can lead to a big difference in your quality of sleep.”

Michelle Audette’s sleep coaching top tips
1. Too much caffeine can make it difficult to get to sleep and stay asleep. Avoid it way before bed-time as caffeine has a half-life of about six hours – it may be in your body later than you realise.

2. Manage your light in the evening – the blue light we get from screens plays with our circadian rhythm, telling our body it’s daytime. Dim your lights and switch electronics to the red/amber ‘warm’ light mode about 90minutes before you’re planning to sleep so that your body produces melatonin, which makes you sleepy.

3. Unplug at night – leave tech outside the bedroom and put a curfew on emails and messages; any stressful content can leave you wide-awake and anxious when you want to be relaxed and sleepy.