Without a good night’s rest we can’t function as well. You might recognise the feeling of grumpiness and/or grogginess that comes with sleep deprivation. You might feel more overwhelmed by the stresses of the day than usual.
“I could finally sleep. And this was the real gift, because when you cannot sleep, you cannot get yourself out of the ditch—there’s not a chance.”Elizabeth Gilbert (Eat, Pray, Love)
How much sleep do you actually need?
It’s different for all of us and our sleep-needs also change as we get older. The general consensus is that we should aim for around 7 – 8 hours a night. If you are regularly getting less than 6 hours’ sleep a night, it’s certainly time to speak to someone (see resources section below).
Why do we need to sleep?
Sleep is a natural, restorative process. If we are sleep deprived, we can experience cognitive processing issues such as mental fatigue or fogginess, and memory loss.
The odd night of interrupted sleep will likely impact your mood and attention. You might feel a bit slower and/or foggier. But if you are consistently not getting enough sleep, there is a risk of damaging your mental and physical health.
Sleep is important for giving the systems of your body a rest and for restoration. There are other potential risks too such as obesity, type 2 diabetes.
“Research has found that those who frequently get fewer than six hours a night are at significantly increased risk of stroke and heart disease, with evidence that not sleeping enough may ramp up the ‘fight or flight’ response to stress, releasing hormones that speed up heart rate and raise blood pressure”The Sleep Charity
What’s causing the sleep deprivation?
Typically, the cause for sleep deprivation falls into one (or more) of four categories:
- The sleep environment (your bed, your bedroom)
- What you are eating/drinking
- Your exercise routine
- Your mental health
Tips for a better night’s sleep
We are all different and there is no ‘magic’ solution.
These are some very basic suggestions and worth going through as a checklist. ome of these involve purchasing something, but there are many adjustments that can be made at no cost.
However, they don’t work for everyone, so please be kind and gentle with yourself if you still can’t get a good night’s rest. Take a look at the resources section below for further information and support.
First, a note on perimenopause / menopause
If you might be perimenopausal or menopausal, poor sleep is sadly a classic symptom. You might experience hot flushes and more interrupted sleep from anxious / racing thoughts.
- Balance is a free app that you may find helpful
- Keep the room cool – you may find a fan helpful
- It may be worth investing in light, cotton sheets and loose, cotton clothing
- Relaxation techniques such as mindfulness and breathing exercises can help calm the body
- The research strongly suggests regular exercise can help
- If anxiety or stress is keeping you awake, it may be time to talk to a counsellor or therapist or your GP
Some more tips…
- Establish a regular pattern (e.g. in bed by 10pm even if you aren’t sleepy; wake-up alarm at 7am)
- BUT if you don’t fall asleep within 20 minutes, get out of bed. Get up an try a calming activity like reading or listening to a mindfulness track and go back to bed when you feel sleepy
- Avoid afternoon napping
- Do you have LED lights in your home? Think about changing them to incandescent bulbs or keeping them off in the evening. Blue light triggers the brain to produce dopamine (the hormone that keeps your brain active and excited) and suppresses melatonin secretion (that helps you sleep)
- Avoid nicotine, alcohol and caffeine at least 6 hours before going to bed
- Avoid watching TV or doing work in bed
- Bring attention to your bed and your bedroom: How is your bed? How are your pillows?
- Is your bedroom cool and quiet? Would earplugs help?
- Is there light that is keeping you awake? (Maybe try an eye mask or black-out blinds)
- If you can, keep your devices (phones, tablets, smart watches) out of the bedroom or at least away from your bed. You can often set them to automatically shift into night mode at a certain time every day. If you need an alarm, perhaps invest in an old-fashioned alarm clock
- There are various sprays and oils on the market that purport to help with sleep. You might find one of these helpful; for example, lavender oil is traditionally used for its calming properties. You can also buy sleep masks infused with calming scents
- Tidy and de-clutter your bedroom – a cluttered mind can lead to a busy mind
An hour before bed
- Avoid food and drink in this time
- Avoid all screens an hour before bed: tv, mobiles, Kindles, tablets. Blue light triggers the brain to produce dopamine (the hormone that keeps your brain active and excited) and suppresses melatonin secretion which can cause insomnia
- Is there something soothing you can do in that time instead? For example, a warm bath, gentle yoga, reading a book, listening to a podcast
- Try a simple guided meditation before going to bed
- Some people find that wearing bedsocks helps them to nod off
Eating / drinking
- If you are waking up in the night to go to the toilet, try not drinking anything two hours before bed
- Reduce / eliminate caffeine: I love coffee. I really do. But I have had to limit myself to one caffeinated drink a day that I have before 11am. We can all have such different responses to caffeine. It may be that reducing or eliminating caffeine could really help you get off to sleep
- Avoid a heavy meal before bed if you can
- There is quite a bit of research now linking exercise to better sleep. Can you move more in the day? Perhaps a walk, run or some yoga?
- Are you getting enough sunlight in the day? Aim to get outside every day to encourage your body’s natural circadian rhythm (the process that regulates the sleep–wake cycle)
- Some gentle stretches before bed can loosen muscles and relieve tension
- Relaxation techniques such as mindfulness and breathing exercises to help calm the body and mind
- Keep a notepad by your bed to write down any thoughts before you go to sleep
- Keep a journal and get into the habit of writing in your journal every day before bed
- In the hour before bed, try doing something that forces your mind to engage such as drawing, reading, cross-stitch or knitting to help occupy your mind
- One of the most frustrating things about insomnia is that our anxiety about it can keep us awake. If you find that your anxiety is keeping you awake, after 20 mins or so get up and try distracting yourself with something like cleaning the house, reading a book or some arty activity like drawing or cross-stitch
Resources for sleep deprivation
Speak to your GP about your sleep deprivation as there may be apps/other resources available to you
Book (perimenopause and menopause): The Definitive Guide to the Perimenopause & Menopause by Dr Louise Newson
Book (psychological tools for dealing with anxious thoughts): Why Has Nobody Told Me This Before? by Dr Julie Smith
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