Body & Fitness

Snooze clues: Tune your body clock

Sleep yourself happy with these simple nighttime tricks

What’s your wake-up routine like? Whether you bounce out of bed in the morning or hit snooze for an hour, it all comes down to your genes.

British researchers have discovered that the length of a gene dubbed Period-3 determines whether you’re an early bird or a night owl. But you don’t have to just lie back and take it – there are strategies you can use to optimise your kip.

Sleep your way slim

There’s a wealth of evidence that people who get a good night’s sleep are slimmer. As you doze off, your brain regulates the appetite hormones, as well as the stress hormone cortisol. When these are out of balance, you’re likely to be hungrier.

If you’re an early bird: You’re naturally in sync with your body’s circadian rhythm, which dictates that cortisol levels should be higher in the morning and lowest at night. This means you feel refreshed on rising and tired when night draws in. Even if you’re up super-early, you should eat soon after you rise to avoid food cravings later on.

If you’re a night owl: You probably won’t get to sleep until the early hours, resulting in a shortened night’s sleep. That means your natural body clock is likely to be out of sync, leaving

you vulnerable to food cravings.

What to do: Eat healthy snacks regularly throughout the day to keep your blood sugar balanced.

Supercharge your brain power

As you drift off, your brain starts transporting learnt information from the hippocampus (the part of the brain responsible for short-term memory) to the neo-cortex, known as the brain’s “hard drive”. Lack of sleep can lead to forgetfulness.

If you’re an early bird: A good night’s sleep leads to a sharper brain as your body gets enough time to digest the day’s new information. On the downside, early risers may find it harder

to keep their eyes open during the afternoon.

If you’re a night owl: Being chronically sleep-deprived can affect your alertness and ability to recall information. In fact, research by the University of Groningen in the Netherlands indicates that lack of sleep could even damage your grey matter. What to do: During the day, drink uplifting herbal teas such as ginseng, and avoid laptops and television at night. Instead, have a bath with essential oils to lull yourself into a sleepy state.

Maximise your threshold

There’s a strong connection between physical health and sleep patterns. Joint pain and muscle stiffness are common side effects of insomnia. Recent research also shows that the immune system’s responses are affected by sleep loss. You might find you’re less able to deal with pain or that painkillers are less effective on little sleep.

If you’re an early bird: Make the most of your internal alarm clock and hit the gym for a morning workout. Leaving exercise late can raise cortisol, which should be at its lowest in the evening.

If you’re a night owl: Don’t be tempted to sleep in – take naps instead to keep your body clock ticking over and your pain tolerance high.

What to do: Have a cup of lemon balm tea at least an hour before you go to bed.

Boost your fertility

Research suggests that those who get good-quality shut-eye are less likely to suffer problems conceiving. A good sleep-awake cycle helps regulate reproductive cycles and reins in stress.

If you’re an early bird: Your chances of a healthy baby are thought to be higher. South Korean scientists also found that women having IVF treatment, who had seven to eight hours of sleep a night, were more likely to conceive.

If you’re a night owl: US research shows that night-shift workers can suffer irregular periods, making it harder to fall pregnant.

What to do: Ventilate your room, as insufficient oxygen disrupts sleep patterns, and keep your room dark.

5 ways to tune your body clock

Do: Keep a regular sleep schedule, going to bed and rising the same time every day.

Don’t: Expose yourself to bright light in the two hours before going to sleep – it’ll make it difficult to drop off and harder to drag yourself out of bed the next day. Use the dimmer switch!

Do: Expose yourself to bright sunlight when you wake up by going outside of the house for a walk or workout. Shift worker? Try a dawn simulator, which can also lift your mood.

Don’t: Sleep in too much at the weekend – it’ll only let your body clock drift later and make it even harder to get up on Monday.

Do: Keep your bedroom as dark as possible when you’re sleeping. Even the glow of a laptop or a smartphone can sabotage your sleep.

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