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Back to School(night) Routine

May 03, 2018

The holidays are over, get back to (normal) sleep.

Holidays and long weekends are fun but they can play havoc with your internal clock. Do you go to bed (on the last day of your break) dreading the shrill siren of your alarm? Does the thought of getting up (on your first day back) fill you with life-sucking denial? Join the club. We might not have jackets but we have some excellent tips and tricks that can help. Read on to find out how to re-adjust to your normal routine in the wake of a break.

The first thing to understand is that your body likes its rituals. It likes to wake up at the same time every day. It likes to go to bed at the same time every night. This is not because your body is boring. It’s because your body naturally regulates the hundreds of physical changes needed to transition from one state to the next. Sometimes it needs a bit of a run-up to get you ready for the next activity (or lack thereof). Messing with the ritual messes with your body’s preparations. This, in turn, messes with your sleep.

“The body has an extremely accurate natural clock and in the hour before waking it starts preparing – like a computer booting up when it’s first turned on. Sleep becomes lighter, body temperature rises and the stress hormone cortisol is released to wake you up.” - Neil Stanley (former chairman of the British Sleep Society)

Coming back from a long weekend or school holiday is (physically) the same as arriving in a new timezone. Your internal clock is confused and needs help getting back on track:

1. Wake up! Rage against the alarm clock

When you have a few days of holiday left on the calendar, start trying to wake up at your normal time every morning. Those long-weekend lie-ins conspire to gradually move your internal clock forward by increments that add up to hours and hours. Waking up at your normal time will stop you wanting to stay up late and gradually bring you back to the median.

2. Go to sleep! - Go to sleep! - Go to sleep!

This is hard when there is still vacation to be had, but force yourself. Trying to squeeze the last couple of drops from your downtime can result in you tiredly sleeping past your normal wake-up call. This perpetuates the vicious cycle of late night / lie-in.

3. Use the Light, Luke!

We know by now that our bodies respond to various forms of light in order to orient itself. Daylight (blue spectrum light) cues our bodies to the start of the day and initiates the production of wake-up hormones. Once you’ve woken, all groggy and grainy: throw open the drapes! You won’t burst into flame, we swear. When night comes around, stay away from phones, laptops and TVs. Use gentle light (dimmed lights or candles) to ease your body into the transition.

4. You snooze, you snore

We know the snooze button looks like your best friend through bloodshot eyes. Nothing could be further from the truth. Hitting snooze can cause you to overshoot your optimum wake-up window. (The plato in your circadian rhythm.) You might drift off into a deeper sleep from which return is even more difficult.

5. The kids aren’t alright

They take longer to come off the holiday high than you do. Mostly because they have far less worry weighing them down. But they struggle with the same re-acclimatization issues. Impose strict bedtimes / wake-up times to draw them back into the routine.  Their developing minds and bodies need more sleep than adults. Plus, they can’t keep you awake if they’re unconscious.

6. Feed the “off-switch”

The part of our brains that control our sleepiness (the melatonin producing brain cells) die off as we get older. This is why pensioners so frequently struggle with insomnia. Studies have shown that cherry juice, taken twice a day, counteracts this shortage of melatonin.

7. Go nuts at bedtime

No, not really. But nutritionists have found that the natural elements in brazil nuts (selenium and potassium) and milk (butanoic- and dodecanoic acids) promote restful sleep. Try a handful of nuts and a glass of milk an hour before bed and see whether this doesn’t do the trick.

8. Slave to the rhythm

Most importantly: stick to your routine. Especially when trying to re-acclimate, your body will be sensitive to even small changes. This includes your normal mealtimes. Your body will try to establish the time of day based on when you take breakfast / second-breakfast / elevensies / brunch / etc. Give it a helping hand by being predictable.

Off course, none of this is any good unless you can actually get to sleep. For that, you need a bed (and a bedroom) you can look forward to. It does no good alienating the kids and eating buckets of nuts if your mattress springs squeak. Or if your pillow holds on like a full-nelson. Visit Bed King for a mattress that will cart you off to dreamland and a pillow that will leave you wondering how you got there.

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