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Spring into a better night’s sleep

Sunday night marked the start of British Summer Time (BST), and what beautiful spring weather we have had! The lighter evenings and bright weather are certainly mood-enhancing — and we need that more than ever in these turbulent times.

However, you may be feeling the effects of losing an hour of sleep. It can be difficult to move our bedtime routine to sleep an hour earlier. This inevitably has an impact on the earlier morning start as 7am BST now equates to 6am GMT. For families with children, this can be even more difficult. Children may take a while to adjust to the earlier bedtime, and going to bed when it is still light. Of course, we will all adjust as we do every year.

However, clock change is a good time to consider how you might improve your sleep habits.

Adjust to the clock change gradually.

If, going to bed an hour earlier just leaves you staring at the ceiling feeling frustrated for longer to to bed only when you are tired. Get up at your regular time. You may feel tired for a few days but your body will adjust and you’ll feel tired earlier. You could also try moving your bedtime gradually earlier by 15m over 1–2 weeks.

Establish a really good bedtime routine in the ‘golden hour’ leading up to bed stick to it.

Try to do the same activities every night and adopt a regular bedtime. Regular routines help associate bedtime with sleep and stimulate the body’s sleep hormone (melatonin) naturally

Turn off tech and devices at least an hour before bedtime (or at least minimise interaction and stimulating content).

This is easier said than done for both adults and children. Scrolling social media, reading the news, playing games, chatting online with friends are all stimulating and not conducive to feeling sleepy.

There are two reasons for this.

When light levels drop in the evening, our circadian timer (body clock) switches on and stimulates the production of the sleep hormone melatonin. The use of phones and other technology before bed disrupts this natural process. Screens on phones and tablets emit blue light which suppresses the production of melatonin from the brain’s pineal gland and stimulates the production of the chemical dopamine which makes us feel alert and ‘switched on’.

Another issue is that attending to stimulating content does not encourage us to switch off and relax. Engaging with stimulating content (e.g., social media, online chat, news, email), we can end up subconsciously monitoring for alerts. It has been shown that just having the phone in the room is associated with delayed sleep onset.

Of course, not everything about technology is negative. There is also evidence that Mindfulness apps, soothing podcasts or stories, radio etc can be helpful. As with everything, it is all a matter of balance.

Try to get outdoors for an hour or two during daylight hours

Fresh air and exercise will help to tire out those children who struggle to get sleep, and exposure to natural daylight is also important to help reset our body clocks and improve feelings of wellbeing.

Let’s hope we can enjoy British Summertime while it lasts!

Dr Anna Weighall

Reader in Psychology and Education

British Sleep Society member

Further information:

British Sleep Society: sleep and COVID resources

NHS Every Mind Matters

National Sleep Helpline

Help us understand more about current sleep experiences in the current context by completing the British Sleep Society 10 minute survey

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Education Matters

Education Matters

Research at the School of Education, University of Sheffield. For more information about us, visit www.sheffield.ac.uk/education.