By James Wilson – AKA The Sleep Geek – one of the UK’s leading sleep behaviour experts.
Understanding our sleep type is fundamental to us sleeping better. Think of your sleep type as a continuum, a line, with ‘larks’ (those who sleep between 8-10pm and wake between 4-6am) with ‘owls’ at the other (going to sleep after 11pm and waking after 8am) and typical or neutral sleepers, who sit in the middle. Most of us are towards the middle of this line, with a slight preference one way or another. Our sleep type does change as we go through life; it is at its most similar at the ages of 10 and 55 and then aged between 13 and our mid-twenties we are more likely to be ‘owls’.
The thing to remember when thinking about your sleep type is that it is like your eye colour or fingerprints; it cannot be changed, so you cannot become a morning person, but you can get up earlier as an Owl.
The way we can use sleep types is by understanding they are is a window of opportunity when your body is more likely to fall asleep and stay asleep.
Ensure you are targeting a sleep time that sits within your window. Although we do get more tired the longer we go without sleep, for larks they often ignore their sleepiness and their body “wakes up” again as it thinks Larks want to be awake. This can mean that larks are falling asleep after midnight but still waking early. When waking in the morning, if you feel Ikea your sleep need has been met, then get up and start your day. As a lark doing your exercise earlier in the day its really helpful, as exercising too close to sleep time will fill your body with adrenaline and cortisol.
The world is not designed for owls. In fact, during lockdown we have seen a significant amount of people sleeping better and from my experience these have been Owls who, due to not having a commute have been able to sleep more in line with their body’s natural rhythm. For Owls the biggest issue I come across is they rush towards bedtime. They fall for the 8-hour myth and therefore if they have a 6am wake up, they go to bed to sleep for 10pm and don’t fall asleep because they are not designed to, and spend hours tossing and turning.
Understanding your sleep type is the first thing to consider when trying to improve your sleep but also the following:
In the hour before bed, focus on being relaxed and dropping your heart rate and dropping your core temperature. These are the physiological processes that help encourage the production of Melatonin, the hormone that helps us sleep.
If you are in bed for 30 minutes and not asleep, whether it is as you go to bed, or if you wake in the night, then you need to start again. Listen to something to help your mind wander; a spoken word book, podcast, the radio or music of less than 60 beats per minute.
Have a consistent wake-up time. One of the systems that manage our sleep is sleep pressure, which builds during the day. A consistent wake-up time will drive a consistent sleep time, so if you want to get your sleep back into sync, start with your wake up time, not your sleep time.
Expose yourself to lots of natural daylight earlier in the day. This helps lift your mood and tells your body that it is now time to be awake. As we move into the darker winter months, a sunshine alarm clock can help the wake-up process and a Lightbox, which mimics the frequency of light of the sun can be a great tool to raise your alertness levels and leave you feeling ready for the day ahead.
About the expert
Sleep expert James Wilson, known as The Sleep Geek, is one of the UK’s leading sleep behaviour experts, helping people nationwide to solve their sleep issues. As well as assisting individuals to sleep better, James also works alongside household companies such as the NHS and Coca-Cola in producing products, services and environments to ensure everyone can get the sleep they deserve.
For more information, please visit www.beingwellfamily.com