Switch Off To Sleep Soundly
I recently ran a webinar on The Science of Sleep and, perhaps like a recurring nightmare, the topic of sleep seems to keep cropping up with me, my clients and in the news.
It seems that over half of us in the UK are struggling to sleep during the coronavirus pandemic and I have my theories as to why this could be. The obvious one is of course the worries that Covid-19 has engulfed us with; from concern about our own health, those of our loved ones, potential redundancy and what the future holds for us.
I know for me I am now much more on edge and often waking up during the night or ridiculously early wondering why my brain is now 'on' at 3.40am in the morning. Not only is this really annoying but it is not doing my health any good and if you are in the same boat as me then I hope what I have found out will help.
As the majority of people continue to work from home we have lost our commute when we would gear up to get going with or wind down from our working day.
It has also meant that many people are working from their havens of rest - their bedrooms, even their beds. It is no wonder that our already anxious brain is now spiralling as it has limited means to switch off to rest.
How bad is a few nights poor sleep really?
According to sleep scientists - pretty bad and here are the ugly facts to prove it:
We are 30% more likely to gain weight if we sleep 6 hours or less as we eat more to conserve energy when tired, are less motivated to exercise and even if we do work out we are likely to be lazy whilst doing so. Any weight that does come off is 70% likely to come from our muscle mass.
We are more susceptible to stress and are less empathetic - every snapped at your partner/child/colleague and immediately said "Sorry - I just didn't sleep well"
Our memory is worse and can be so badly affected that neuroscientists now believe there is a strong correlation between lack of sleep and Alzheimer's.
We are more pron e to developing cancer as our immunity can drop by up to 70% and our risk of heart disease doubles.
All in all we are 12% more likely to die prematurely if we sleep 6 hours compared to 8 hours per night. Now that is scary. Very scary.
As someone who has had a love hate relationship with sleep from passing out on my sofa due to exhaustion only to wake up with a stiff neck, very hot and confused to going to bed abnormally early in order to maximise my 'sleep window' I am fascinated by this 'magic cure' of sleep and how I can improve my sleep and that of my clients.
So why is sleep so beneficial for us?
Well - there are a myriad of answers and I am unable to do them justice here, however, sleep specialists believe that our brains and bodies go through different processes as we sleep due to our different stages of sleep: light sleep, dreaming sleep (Rapid Eye Movement) and deep sleep (Non Rapid Eye Movement)
It is in dreaming and deep sleep that the magic occurs as our memories from the day are sorted and stored in our long term memory bank, our brain is cleansed and toxins removed, certain genes only switch on during sleep and our bodies are allowed to completely relax (sleep paralysis)
Essentially, sleep has a bountiful restorative affect on us allowing us to find solutions to problems, keep calmer, ramp up our creativity and supports our physical as well as our mental health.
Sounds great! How can we get 'good' sleep then?
Here are my 6 top tips on how you can switch off, rest better and sleep well:
Establish a bedtime routine. Yes it may sound absurd and only something for children, however, we need to indicate to our brains that we are winding down and getting ready for bed and sleep. Consider dimming your lights, eating earlier rather than later, limiting screens an hour before bed and practice light stretching, meditation or breathing exercises to quieten your mind.
Exercise in the morning or early afternoon otherwise your endorphins will be keeping you alert and your core body temperature will be too hot. We need a cooler core to sleep well.
Consume your coffee prior to 12pm - caffeine is a) a psychoactive stimulant and b) like all drugs has a half life - it hangs around in our systems for quite a while impeding our ability to nod off. Sorry.
Limit the boozing. Sorry again. Especially fellow gin lovers but alcohol is a sedative not a sleep aid and if you are going to bed feeling tipsy (or are flat out wasted) than chances are your sleep quality will be poor.
Create your Bedroom Heaven by making it as dark as possible, cool rather warm for your core temperature, banish all screens (buy an alarm clock if your phone is your alarm)
Write down your racing thoughts to tell your brain that you have captured them so it can switch off. If you are still waking up in the middle of the night then get up and leave your Bedroom Heaven. Go and do something relaxing and restful such as reading a book (not a screen!) and then return to bed when you feel sleepy - only when you feel sleepy.
I sincerely hope these tips help and if you want any more information on sleep or wellbeing then don't hesitate to get in touch.
Sleep well folks x