I love the Irish proverb - “A good laugh and a long sleep are the two best cures for anything!” Ensuring that we have plenty of both is great for our self-care.
Sleep is one of the most important parts of our day. Did you sleep well last night? Unfortunately, many of us don’t, but in this blog we take a look at some ways we can help ourselves.
Did you know that the average person spends 36% of their life asleep? That means that by the time you’re 90 you will have spent 32 years of your life asleep! But sleep problems are very common, 1 in 3 people in the UK find it difficult to fall asleep or stay asleep.
And there is now scientific evidence that links poor sleep to various health issues such as obesity, diabetes, and cardiovascular disease to name a few.
So how do we make sure we have a good night’s sleep? Well, first it might help to understand how our body works.
We all have four internal biological rhythms. These are 24-hour cycles that are part of the body’s internal clock, they run in the background to carry out essential functions and processes. One of the most important and well-known is the circadian rhythm which controls the sleep-wake cycle.
The circadian rhythm is directly influenced by environmental cues, especially light, which is why these rhythms are tied to the cycle of day and night. The circadian rhythm also controls appetite, body temperature, hormone levels, alertness, daily performance, blood pressure and reaction times.
Why do we sleep? Scientists have lots of different ideas about this, but the three main reasons are:
Restoration - during sleep our bodies and brains restore and repair themselves. Taking to your bed for a couple of days when you are ill will heal you much quicker than taking pills and soldiering on.
Energy conservation - sleeping saves calories. Very handy when we were cavemen!
Brain function - during sleep our brains process information dealt with during the day and lays down long term memories. Have you ever had a light bulb moment after a good night’s sleep?
Having regular quality sleep increases our concentration, attention, decision making, creativity, social skills and health. It decreases our mood changes, stress, feelings of anger, impulsiveness, drinking and smoking.
So, are you having trouble getting to sleep or staying asleep? There are things you can do to help both.
Keep regular sleeping hours, this will programme your brain and internal body clock into a regular routine. Most adults need 6 to 9 hours of sleep every night. Count backwards from the time you need to get up and you can set a regular bedtime schedule.
Wake up the same time every day. As tempting as it is to catch up after a bad night’s sleep, doing so on a regular basis can be very disruptive.
Wind down and relax. There are lots of ways you can relax:
o Have a warm bath.
o Do some light, slow yoga stretches to help relax your muscles.
o Listen to a relaxation CD or download an app, the NHS website has a few apps that you can download.
o Read a good book or listen to the radio.
Avoid using electronic devices such as your smartphone, tablets, or other electronic devices (even the tv) for an hour or so before you go to bed. Remember your circadian rhythm responds to light and the light from your devices can have a negative effect on you falling asleep.
What else can you do to help you have a good night’s sleep?
1. Make your bedroom sleep friendly! The temperature of your bedroom can really affect your sleep, an ideal bedroom temperature is between 16 – 18oC. Temperatures over 24oC may make you restless and below 16oC can make it difficult to drop off. Children and the elderly may need their rooms to be warmer than 16 -18oC .
2. Your bedroom is your sanctuary. In an ideal world it should not be an extension of your living room. So, remove the electronic devices. Get rid of the tv and don’t take your laptop to bed to answer that last minute email! Create a calm, safe haven devoted to sleep.
3. Add layers to your bedding, this way you can take off a layer if you get too warm.
4. Make sure your bedroom is dark when you go to bed or wear an eye mask. When it’s dark our bodies release melatonin, which is the hormone that helps regulate our circadian rhythm and helps us relax in to sleep.
5. Busy day ahead? Write everything down before you go to bed, then you don’t need to worry about forgetting anything and you can just enjoy your sleep.
6. If you use your mobile phone as an alarm clock – put it on aeroplane mode, that way you can’t be interrupted by notifications and late-night texts from your friends that can’t sleep!
7. If you wake up and can’t get back to sleep, after 25 minutes or so do something different. Have a walk around – don’t start to look at your computer or mobile phone though! If you’ve got thoughts running through your head, write them down. I’m lucky enough to have a spare bed, so I go in there and listen to the radio – there are some interesting programmes on the BBC World Service at 4am!!
8. Monitor alcohol and caffeine intake. Avoid caffeinated drinks in the afternoon and evening. Also, be aware that some medicines contain caffeine.
9. Make sure you have enough room in your bed and that your mattress and pillows are comfortable.
10. Open your curtains as soon as your alarm goes off. The daylight will help you wake up.
Did you know that what we eat, and drink can also have an affect on our sleep? A healthy diet can help you fall asleep faster, enhance your sleep quality and sleep duration. When we are feeling really tired, we can make poor food choices, that’s why you shouldn’t do your food shop when you are really hungry!
Have you ever come home from work feeling exhausted and you can’t decide what you’d like to eat or whether you can be bothered to cook? It’s so much easier then to reach for the chocolate, crisps or biscuits and before you know it, you’re full of junk food and wishing that you’d taken something healthy out of the freezer before you went to work.
Unfortunately, high sugar, high carbohydrate and overly processed foods tend to have a negative impact on sleep quality. Eating these foods throughout the day causes pronounced changes in your blood sugar - which can cause fatigue that may alter your daily routine - which can then impact on your sleep patterns at night.
Eating big heavy meals close to bedtime interferes with the body’s process of winding down for sleep - as the stomach and the intestines are still hard at work breaking down the food. This can cause indigestion or heartburn at night-time.
Did you know you are also more likely to snore after you’ve drunk alcohol? And that can impact on your sleep quality and worsens conditions like sleep apnoea. It also negatively impacts the sleep quality for your bed partner! Oh dear, that’s not good for a harmonious relationship!
We all have times when we can’t get to sleep or wake up in the middle of the night - but if you are experiencing this on a regular basis and you feel that the lack of sleep is negatively affecting you, please speak to your GP. There’s a lot of advice out there about how to get a good night’s sleep, some of the sites I’ve used are listed below.
I hope you’ve enjoyed reading this, maybe it’s cured your insomnia!!
Many thanks to Melissa Trenfield, who is an Occupational Health Advisor, for all her help and here are the links to some very useful sleep information sites …..