This week I am talking all about sleep. How much you need, why it's important and how to improve your current sleep health.

How much sleep is needed?

Sleep is important to help the body recover and recharge. Most people need between five to nine hours sleep a night but everyone is different and it will vary at different stages of life. Bill Clinton, Barack Obama, Thomas Edison and Margaret Thatcher all claim that they functioned at their best on 4 to 6 hours sleep every night.  Even Donal Trump credits his ‘success’ to 3 to 4 hours sleep (hmm perhaps he could benefit from more!). 
 
You know your body best and you should have a good idea of how many hours makes you feel good for the day.  More important than the quantity, though, it’s the quality of sleep that really matters and the amount of time spent in a ‘deep sleep’ or ‘dream (REM) sleep’. Deep sleep usually occurs during the first five hours of the night. So if sleep is very short or constantly broken (ie new baby, pain, stress etc), the body may not feel rested.  This can lead to tiredness the following day, increase in caffeine intake to cope, difficulty sleeping the following day due to caffeine, and so the cycle continues.
 
Throughout life, it is normal for people to have periods of poor  sleep, but it is important that it doesn’t develop into a long-term problem. Problems getting to sleep, waking early or not being able to sleep throughout the night can affect your general well-being. As well as feeling tired, you may feel irritable, have no energy and have difficulty concentrating. The body begins to rely on adrenaline to stay alert throughout the day, increasing the blood pressure and heart rate, and puts pressure on the nervous system. The body also releases the stress hormone cortisol, which can lead to fat storage, particularly around the waist.

Tips to improve your sleep 

When you wake up in the morning:

 

  • Get out of bed, don’t try to go back to sleep.
  • Try to get up at the same time each morning.
  • Try to get sunlight as soon as you wake, this triggers the brain to become active.

During the day:

  • Don’t nap as this can lead to difficulty falling asleep at night
  • If stress is keeping you awake, set aside some time for problem-solving during the day or afternoon.  Write down a To-Do-List for the following day so that things aren’t playing on your mind.
  • Try to be physically active every day, even if it’s a brisk walk.
  • Avoid caffeine (including tea, coffee, cola, chocolate & energy drinks) after 4pm (or earlier if you know you are sensitive. Try giving up completely to see if it makes a difference.
  • Try Valarian (a herb) or speak to your doctor about sleeping tablets for a short term solution if you are exhausted.

Before going to bed:

  • Try to go at the same time every day
  • Eat dinner at least 2 hours before bed
  • Make sure you are not hungry
  • Go to the toilet before you get into bed
  • Avoid drinking alcohol or smoking
  • Allow time to wind down - stop activity at least 30 minutes before bedtime
  • Avoid electrical activity in the bedroom – turn off TV’s, computers, mobile phones etc. The blue light in these can affect the release of melatonin, thus affecting your body’s natural sleep/awake rhythm.

While you sleep:

  • Make your bedroom quiet, dim and cool.
  • Avoid too many blankets and electric blankets. 
  • Ensure your pillow and mattress is comfortable and that pillows and sheets are washed regularly to avoid a build up of dust mites.

Common causes of sleep problems:

  • Medications (such as pain and cold relievers). 
  • Stimulants (such as coffee, chocolate, sugar alcohol or tobacco).
  • Excitement or jet lag.
  • Illness, pain or stress.
  • Worrying about not getting enough sleep.
  • Depression.

Solving long-term sleep problems.

Here are some steps that can help you to break the cycle of feeling anxious and restless in bed.

  • Eliminate the things that may hinder sleep (see above)
  • Get up after trying for 15 to 20 minutes. Staying in bed feeling restless and anxious is unlikely to result in sleep
  • Do something quiet and distracting, for example read, do a Sudoku, have a warm bath, watch TV
  • Go back to bed when you feel more relaxed and sleepy
  • If you’re still awake after a further 15 to 20 minutes, get out of bed again, repeat this process until you fall asleep shortly after returning to bed
  • If you have a lot of things on your mind, try to process the day’s thoughts and feelings and let go of them before you go to bed. If it helps, write things down during the day or talk about them with someone
  • If you’ve been feeling down for a couple of weeks and also been unable to sleep, talk to your doctor about how you are feeling
  • Stop worrying about how you will feel in the morning. Getting wound up about not having enough sleep often keeps you awake even longer. Once you let go of ‘trying’ to sleep, often it will come more naturally.

Worth a try! Let me know how you get on and if you have any questions at all.

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