Most of us are not getting enough sleep, but it’s more complex than you might think.
Some of the facts around sleep, and its role on our health and wellbeing, are still a mystery, even to scientists. The Daily Mirror reported that one survey found that “Nearly a third of the population are suffering from insomnia which is affecting their health”. This survey of the nation’s sleep habits found that 30% of people are severely sleep deprived, placing them more at risk of mental health and relationship issues.
During sleep the body goes through a variety of processes and sleep stages. Each sleep stage has its own purpose and requires a certain amount of time to bring about optimum results. Sleep that is thought of as ‘good quality’ is likely to be the result of spending enough time in all of those stages, including enough deep sleep to support us in feeling refreshed and rejuvenated.
What Does the Literature Say?
Sleep and our health and wellbeing are strongly linked. Sleep plays an important role in the process of our bodies repairing themselves, and in our brain’s consolidation of our memories, indeed it’s during sleep that we organise information into our long term memories. ‘Restful’ sleep also accommodates brain plasticity, that is the ability to change neuro patterns and behaviours (Ref 1). Poor sleep increases the risk of poor health which in turn can make it harder to sleep, and the cycle can lead to both physical issues (such as weakened immune systems), and mental issues (such as anxiety and depression).
The biggest study on sleep and sleep habits in the UK heard from nearly 7,000 citizens, and found that the following were stated to be the most common reasons for poor sleep:
- Men’s average sleep score was 61%, compared to 57% for women.
- People who said they were in poor health had poorer sleep (average sleep score of 47%) than those who rated their health as good (average sleep score 63%).
- Average sleep score tended to decrease with age.
- Only 38% of the respondents were classified as “good sleepers”.
- 36% were classified as possibly having chronic insomnia.
- 79% of those with insomnia reported having it for at least two years.
- Over four times as many people with insomnia reported relationship difficulties, compared with good sleepers.
- Over 45% of those with insomnia had difficulty staying awake during daylight hours compared with just over 10% of good sleepers.
- Nearly 95% of people with insomnia reported low energy levels in their daily lives, compared with over 40% of good sleepers.
- Over 75% of people with insomnia experienced poor concentration.
What Does the NHS Say?
Poor sleep can be physical or mental, and is definitely affected by our levels of exercise and quality of our nutritional intake.
Here are a few reasons that cause sleep issues, from the NHS :
- A lack of muscle strength which can make you tire more easily
- Side effects of medicines
- Some medical treatments
- Drinking too much alcohol
- Too much stimulants found in tea, coffee, colas and energy drinks
- Excessive amounts of sugar
- Daytime napping will affect your sleep pattern and readiness for bed and a good night’s sleep
- Too much or too little exercise can affect how tired you feel.
- Emotional shock (bereavement, redundancy or a relationship break-up)
What Lies is Your Brain Telling You?
Two of the techniques I use in coaching support people to reframe thoughts, beliefs, and perceptions, and to change behavioural patterns. The techniques are NLP (neuro linguistic programming), and CBT (cognitive behavioural therapy). These techniques are extremely powerful in making mind set shifts, but also in hunting out our perceived reality about a situation. You may have heard the saying ‘you get what you focus on’? Well this is true in part because of how our brains work. Our primitive brain will delete and distort information to protect us, even if we’re not asking it to, and thank you but that’s not always very helpful, brain. So if you are stuck in a ‘can’t sleep, won’t sleep’ rut and it isn’t a physical health related issue that’s causing it, you could disrupt the pattern and get it under control by undertaking balanced thought coaching.
- According to the Mental Health Foundation, adults needs for sleep duration varies from person to person, and can range between 5 and 11 hours.
- Unexplained tiredness is one of the most common reasons for people to see their GP.
- Falling asleep should take you 10-15 minutes.
- If it takes you less than five minutes to fall asleep, you’re probably sleep deprived.
- 12% of people dream entirely in black and white.
- Older people tend to dream in black and white more often than younger people.
- If you find it really difficult to get up every morning, you may have dysania or Chronic Fatigue Syndrome.
- Sleep deprivation will kill you more quickly than food deprivation – check out this article
- Although it’s not fully understood why, our pain tolerance is reduced by sleep deprivation – check out this study
Mindful ways to invite a good night’s sleep
The environment you sleep in should be, as far as possible, a peaceful place just for relaxation, sleep, and snuggle time. Taking time to mindfully set up an environment for this purpose will pay dividends in getting good quality zzzzz’s.
- Pop a couple of drops of pure lavender essential oil under your pillow
- Make sure you’re bed and pillow are comfy, and conducive to a good night’s sleep
- If the morning light wakes you up, and our bodies will naturally stir as light comes in, try; thick curtains, or curtain blackout stitched onto the back of your existing curtains, or black out blinds or shutters, or if none of that seems reasonable, try an eye mask.
- If noise is an issue (or snoring partners), try earplugs to stop it disturbing you
Easing into the Evening: 3-4 hours before bed
- Have a lighter (more easily digested), meal on an evening and avoid late night snacking
- Try a herbal tea like camomile and cut the caffeine
- Avoid a sugar spike and slump by dumping the energy drinks and sugary sweets
- Alcohol, like caffeine and sugar, is known to disturb your sleep so kick it into touch as you settle into the late evening
- Ban TV and tech. and listen to some calming music instead
- Finish off any work before your evening meal
- Relax the mind with something soothingly creative, maybe a bit of colouring
- Have a warm bath (with soothing oils for extra ‘Ahhh’), or long shower
Getting into the Zone: 1-2 hours before bed
Setting up and sticking to a regular routine for bedtime (both going to bed and getting up), will help you get a better night’s sleep as you’re body clock eases into the zone. There are apps that can help you workup a good bedtime routine.
- Decide on a time to go to bed and get up in the morning
- If you have a busy mind, write down everything you can thing of that’s swimming around in a notebook. Then close it and put it away. Say to yourself “I can sleep peacefully without thinking about any of that stuff now”
- Include relaxation yoga positions, such as ‘legs against the wall’
- Soothe your mind with a night time meditation, 10 minutes is good enough
Holistic Treatments to get you ready for a good night’s sleep
- Beauty Sleep Special: A 30 minute treatment comprising of energy zone work, massage, and essential oils.
- Reiki is a great way to heal the mind and body, so if you’ve been going through a lot of emotional or physical stuff, a 30 or 50 minute treatment is a great way to get back in balance.
- Crystal relaxation. This 30 minute treatment uses essential oils and acupressure, along with crystals, to promote peace and relaxation.
Ref 1:Rebecca M. C. Spencer, “Neurophysiological Basis of Sleep’s Function on Memory and Cognition,” ISRN Physiology, vol. 2013, Article ID 619319, 17 pages, 2013. https://doi.org/10.1155/2013/619319.
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