Poor sleep is a problem that I see with many of my clients. I personally struggled with sleep problems for many years, and I know how debilitating this can be. So, in honour of National Sleep Awareness Week, I want to talk about why a good night's sleep is so important and how you can go about getting it!
Sleep is as important to health as good nutrition and exercise. Unfortunately, it is estimated that as a nation, we are getting two hours less sleep each night when compared to 60 years ago. This is likely due to the non-stop demands of modern life, increased stress and the over-stimulation of our minds due to the use of smartphones and tablets, especially in the evening.
The effects of sleep deprivation can be detrimental to both our bodies and minds. If you don’t get enough sleep, you may not be able to concentrate properly, and you may notice that you feel more irritable and agitated. On top of that, if you’re tired, you are more likely to experience cravings which may lead to unhealthy food choices.
A lack of sleep can also lead to decreased immunity and you may notice that you feel run-down and get sick more often. During sleep, your body produces proteins called cytokines that fight inflammation and infection. When you are exposed to infectious pathogens, have chronic inflammation, or experience chronic stress, your body increases production of these cytokines to offset illness. Sleep deprivation hinders the immune response and impacts your body’s ability to naturally fight off infections
The amount of sleep each person needs varies. Waking up feeling refreshed in the morning is a good indicator that you are getting enough, and so is being able to wake without an alarm. If you need an alarm to wake up, you are likely not getting enough sleep.
You might be surprised to learn that, in a computer simulated driving test, those who had just a few hours sleep were more dangerous on the (virtual) road than the people who had a few drinks! In fact, many road accidents are caused by tiredness.
The purpose of sleep is to allow your body to rest, recover and repair itself. These maintenance and repair processes take between 7 and 9 hours. I find that many people have trained themselves to get by on much less!
But just how do you get a good night’s sleep?
There are many factors that can lead to insomnia, however I have found one of the most common factors is stress. If you are suffering with poor sleep, I recommend keeping a sleep diary to help you identify your triggers. I encourage you to implement 3 to 4 of the following strategies in order to improve the quality of your sleep:
Make an effort each day to relieve stress, this may involve taking a relaxing bath, meditation, prayer, light reading, spending time with loved ones or a walk in the park. This will be different for each person.
As much as possible, try to go to sleep and wake up at the same time each day, this will help to train your biological clock.
Spend time outdoors and soak up the sun, as this also helps to regulate your sleep-wake cycle.
Keep the temperature in your bedroom comfortable; not too hot, nor too cold.
Keep the bedroom completely dark, so you’re not disturbed by light, which your brain detects even when your eyes are closed. Eye masks can be useful
Engage in gentle exercise each day. There is evidence that regular exercise improves restful sleep. This includes stretching and aerobic exercise. A brisk walk ticks both boxes.
Consider getting a traditional alarm clock so your smartphone can stay out of the bedroom (see below). Better still, work out how much sleep you need by going to bed 15 minutes earlier until you find that you wake up naturally before your alarm. That’s your personal sleep requirement.
Engage in stimulating activities before bed – like playing a competitive game, watching an edge-of-the seat film, or having an important conversation with a loved one.
Use smartphones and tablets with 2 hours of going to bed - they emit the same kind of light as the morning sun and will interfere with melatonin production (the hormone that helps you to sleep).
Eat a heavy meal within three hours of going to bed.
Drink caffeine after lunch.
Use alcohol to help you sleep as it may cause you to wake frequently during the night.
Go to bed too hungry. 2 Oatcakes with almond butter or 1/2 a banana make a good evening snack.
Most importantly, try to avoid negative thoughts around sleep. It is very common for those with sleep problems (and I know from experience!) to develop anxiety and negative thoughts about sleep. Replacing negative thoughts such as "I can't sleep" with positive thoughts such as "I can relax" and "I can fall asleep" can go a long way in helping to cure your insomnia.
Specific foods and targeted nutritional supplementation can also help. If you are struggling with insomnia or poor quality sleep, feel free to contact me for a free 20 minute consultation where I will assess your unique situation and provide you with some specific tips to help you on your way to getting a better night's sleep!
Wishing you all a wonderful night's sleep. xx Kelly