Sleep smarter

Would you take a pill that could help you do the following:

· improve your memory and cognitive processes

· burn fat

· help you live longer

· fight off cancer

· reduce your blood pressure

· improve your muscle repair and

· improve the quality of your skin and hair

I would. I do. It is cheap and easily accessible to us all. It is sleep. Athletes like Roger Federer get an average of 12 hours a night.

We produce melatonin (a hormone) when we sleep which controls our sleep pattern and also helps us burn fat. A study at the University of Chicago had a group of participants at first sleep for 8.5 hours /night and then for 5.5 hours / night for the same length of time whilst diet remained constant. These participants lost 55% more body fat simply by getting more sleep! Cut your sleep by even an hour and the results show in your blood. What's more, when sleep deprived we also produce more of the hormone that makes us hungry (ghrelin) and less of the hormone that makes us satiated (leptin).

Not only does sleep deprivation stimulate appetite, but it stimulates cravings for high sugar, high salt and high carbohydrate foods. According to a 2004 study, people who sleep less than six hours a day are almost 30 percent more likely to be obese than those who sleep seven to nine hours. So, next time you don't get enough sleep, take a mental note of what you eat the following day.

How to sleep smarter

1. Do not eat heavy meals or drink alcohol for a couple of hours before bed

Sleep is a chance for your body to process everything it experiences that day, repair itself and get sufficient rest for the following day. Very simply, your body cannot simultaneously digest food and repair itself (REM sleep repairs the brain and deep sleep repairs the body). So avoid eating for at least a couple of hours before bed.

2. Go to sleep at the same time every day

Have you ever slept for eight hours but woken feeling tired and foggy? It might be because you hadn't followed your natural circadian clock and gone to sleep at your normal time. Training yourself to go to sleep at the same time everyday, even on the weekends, leads to better health and performance.

3. Reduce blue light from electronic devices /screens

Melatonin (mentioned above) helps regulate our sleep cycle and is controlled by exposure to light. Our ancestors relied on the sun rising and setting as a sign of increasing melatonin levels to help them sleep more efficiently.

However, today many of us unwittingly trick our brains into thinking it is day time when we are stuck in font of screens. If you watch a two-hour movie and then go directly to sleep, you won't start producing melatonin for an hour after the screen is turned off, so although asleep, you won't be in a deep restful sleep and won't go through your sleep cycles efficiently.

Sleep experts recommend reducing your exposure to blue light 2-3 hours before bed. However, we are addicted to our devices today, so if this is not possible for you, give yourself at least a 30 minute blue light curfew. Pick up an old fashioned book or talk to your kids or partner.

And get blue light savvy.

· Download f.lux which is a free cross platform computer program that helps you reduce eye strain at night to overcome the problem of blue light.

· iPhones supposedly have a built in function called 'nightshift'

· Android users can download 'Twilight'

· Get a pair of blue light blocking glasses

· Get rid of TVs in the bedroom. Your bedroom should be a sleep sanctuary.

4. Use common sense to avoid melatonin deficiency

This isn't rocket science. We all know that alcohol, caffeine, sugar and stress in the evenings is going to have an impact on our sleep and hence melatonin, so use common sense. Experts recommend not having caffeine after 14.00 as it can cause restless sleep hours afterwards.

5. The time of day you exercise is important

Half an hour of exercise everyday, even if it’s light, will help you sleep better. Try not to exercise too late in the day as it will raise your metabolism making it harder to get to sleep.

Actually, studies have shown exercising in the morning rather than afternoon or evening, mean you spend more time in a deeper anabolic sleep, you sleep longer and your blood pressure falls by 25% when asleep.

Quick bursts of exercise in the morning such as a quick 5 minute power walk or 5 minutes of HIIT (High Intensity Interval Training) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=paQ5M1nfOpc outperform typical 45-60 min cardio workouts.

6. Create a dark and cool environment

To produce the right amount of melatonin, you need a biological night so turn off any lights from devices and use curtains or blinds. My kids have blackout blinds (from Amazon) on their windows this time of year and I personally wear a mask if it isn't dark by 10.00pm. Also, keep your bedroom 16-20 C. Cooler temperatures lead to a deeper sleep.

So yogis, don't get too neurotic, but if you feel you are sleeping enough but don't have enough energy, are unable to focus, or don't have the right body composition despite a healthy diet and lifestyle, make changes to your night routine. If you are not planning on competing at Wimbledon, you may not need as much as Federer, but ensure you get at least seven hours and sleep smart.