Sleep: is anyone
Recently, lots of us have been struggling to sleep well. This could be down to worries about health, family, business or job, or anxiety triggered by watching the news. To help put our minds at ease, we’ve looked into how to get some decent shut-eye.
So, why do we sleep?
Let’s start with the basics. In his international bestseller, Why We Sleep, renowned neuroscientist and certified sleep-expert Dr. Matthew Walker explores the nitty-gritty of why we need sleep, and how we can use the power of sleep to improve our physical and mental health. Our MD Lindsey got passed this book and couldn’t put it down, she can’t recommend it highly enough. She learned that non-REM and REM sleep are equally important but do different things in the brain; now studies suggest there are links to diseases like Dementia and Parkinson’s.
Apart from the obvious benefits of restoring energy and repairing the body, sleep has a major impact on the body’s ability to boost immunity and fertility. It can also help prevent illnesses such as diabetes and heart disease. So it’s no surprise lack of sleep can make us emotionally unstable, unable to recall information, carry out basic tasks or understand logical reasoning. At worst, it can seriously damage our health.
Sleep and anxiety have an odd relationship
When we have anxious thoughts, the levels of adrenaline in our body are similar to those we get with the ‘fight or flight’ response. Which means the last thing we feel like doing is nodding off. But this lack of sleep can have a worse effect on mood, because even short bouts of sleep deprivation chip away at happiness levels, making us more irritable and worried.
In the face of the recent dramatic change in daily routine, health concerns and relentlessly serious news feeds, is it any wonder we don’t feel particularly rested?
You’re not alone
In late May 2020, King’s College London and Ipsos MORI carried out online interviews with 2,254 UK residents aged 16-75. Their results suggest over half of the UK population has struggled with sleep during lockdown.
Researchers found problems were more common in those facing financial hardship, and that though some people were sleeping longer than usual, they weren’t feeling rested.
Two in five people reported having more vivid dreams than usual. In his book, Dr. Walker says:
“REM sleep dreaming offers a form of therapy… takes the painful sting out of difficult emotional episodes you have experienced during the day, offering emotional resolution when you are awake the next morning.”
Dreaming is our brain storing, sorting and processing information – especially negative emotions – and attempting to discard what it no longer needs. If your dreams have been on the wild side, you’re not alone!
Sadly there’s no failsafe fix for getting a blissful night’s sleep. Instead, we should aim for as much as we need to keep our mental and physical health on an even keel. As humans, our behaviours are innate, so it’s difficult to completely change sleeping habits. But there are some smart changes we can make to help ourselves.
When we have anxious thoughts, the levels of adrenaline in our body are similar to those we get with the ‘fight or flight’ response. Which means the last thing we feel like doing is nodding off.
Set a routine
Establish a routine – and stick to it – to bring a sense of normality to everyday life, even when everything feels upside down. Your daily schedule should include:
• Wake-up Time: Set your alarm, bypass the snooze button and get up at the same time every day.
• Wind-down Time: Relax towards bedtime with some light reading, stretching or meditating.
• Bedtime: Pick a consistent time to turn out the lights and try to fall asleep.
Other helpful steps include showering, getting dressed (even if you’re not leaving the house) and eating meals at the same time each day. And allocate specific times for work and exercise.
Save your bed for sleeping
Experts emphasise the importance of creating an association in your mind between your bed and sleep. Working-from-home shouldn’t mean working-from-bed – and try not to watch movies on your laptop there.
On any given night, if you’re struggling to sleep, don’t spend more than 20 minutes tossing and turning. Instead, get up and do something relaxing in very low light, before heading back to bed.
See the light
Exposure to light plays a crucial role in helping our bodies regulate sleep in a healthy way.
• Spend time outside. Even if the sun isn’t shining brightly, natural light still has a positive effect on our circadian rhythm (internal clock). Many people find being outdoors best in the morning – and you get fresh air too. Bonus!
• Open windows and blinds to let in as much light as possible during the day.
• Watch that screen time… The blue light from electronic devices such as mobile phones, tablets and computers interferes with the body’s natural sleep-promoting processes. Try not to use these for at least an hour before bed.
Establish a routine – and stick to it – to bring a sense of normality to everyday life, even when everything feels upside down.
Keep on moving
When there’s a lot going on it can be easy to forget about exercise, but regular activity brings tons of benefits, not just for sleep. Go for a socially-distanced walk or try one of the countless online classes in yoga, dance or gym. They’re available for any fitness level and lots of them are free!
Be kind and connect
It might not seem critical to your sleep, but kindness and connection can reduce stress and its harmful effects on your mood. Amidst all the media doom, remember to check out the positive stories of how people are supporting one another through the pandemic. Technology makes it easy for us to stay in touch with friends and family, so the distance is only physical, not emotional.
Mastering relaxation techniques is an effective way to improve sleep. Deep breathing, stretching, yoga, mindfulness meditation, calming music and quiet reading are just a few things you can easily fit into your day. Not sure where to start? Check out smartphone apps like Headspace and Calm which have clear programmes if you’re new to meditation.
Eat, drink and be wakeful
Many of us found it hard not to indulge during lockdown but it’s worth remembering alcohol and caffeine can seriously affect sleep quality – especially when consumed later in the day. Keep an eye on your intake.
And sleep tight!
Mastering relaxation techniques is an effective way to improve sleep.