Oh Sleep! it is a gentle thing, beloved from pole to pole...

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Roger Gilbert

Oh Sleep! it is a gentle thing, beloved from pole to pole...

Posted by Roger Gilbert 1013 Days Ago

Many people complain that they don't get enough sleep, or that they have poor quality sleep.  This is something to take seriously because scientists now recognise that getting too little or poor quality sleep not only leaves us feeling tired during the day, but also has a negative effect on our physical and mental wellbeing.

Fortunately, recent studies have shown that it is possible to greatly improve our sleep - and dramatically improve the quality of our lives.  We need to do two things:

  • improve our “sleep hygiene” - a blanket term for our sleep routine and the environment in which we go to sleep
  • deal with anxieties and stress.

A bit of background about sleep

Most people need about eight hours sleep per night.  The amount of sleep we need reduces as we get older- college students needs about eight and a half hours sleep, but pensioners only seven.

During a good night’s sleep our bodies repeatedly go through a sleep cycle, each complete cycle lasting 90 - 110 minutes.  The stages of the sleep cycle are as follows:

Stage 1:  when we first nod off. The stage lasts five to ten minutes and is so light that if we wake up from it, we may not even realise that we have been asleep.

Stages 2-4:  during which the activity of the brain slows down dramatically.  Stages 3 and 4 are the deepest levels of sleep and it is often difficult to wake someone in stage 4.

Rapid Eye Movement (REM) Sleep: so called because our eyes move rapidly from side to side behind our eyelids.  In this stage, our brains are as active as when we are awake and this is probably when we do most of our dreaming.  During REM sleep,  many of our muscles are turned off, probably so that we cannot act out our dreams! This stage is about 25% of our total sleep.

This cycle is controlled by the body’s internal clock and by daylight - there are cells in our eyes which tell us to wake up when daylight comes, even when our eyes are closed.

If we wake during the cycle, we fall asleep again at stage 1, so if our sleep is disturbed during mid-cycle we will not get the benefit of the full cycle.  On the other hand, if you get into a regular routine and wake at the same time every day, you will naturally wake in stage 1 and feel a lot more rested than if you wake in other stages.

Guidelines for tiptop sleep hygiene

  • make sure that you spend sufficient time in bed to get a full night’s sleep.   You can’t make up any deficit by having a nap in the afternoon or by spending the weekend in bed!
  • Keep to a regular time for going to bed and getting up.  Like it or not, your brain is a creature of habit and you will get a better night’s sleep.
  • Don’t surf the internet or look at your mobile phone in the hour or two before going to bed.  These devices emit light which tell the receptors in your eyes that it is time to wake up.
  • Avoid caffeine (in coffee, tea or Red Bull) in the hours before going to bed. 
  • Don’t use alcohol to fall asleep: it may help you to fall asleep but it disrupts your sleep so that is is not as restful.
  • Don’t eat a heavy meal in the three hours before going to bed.
  • Create a relaxing routine to prepare yourself for sleep - any relaxing activity for half an hour before you get into bed.  A regular routine will cause your brain to release melatonin about 30 minutes before you plan to go to sleep.  Melatonin prepares your brain for quality sleep.
  • Make sure that your bedroom is a relaxing place to sleep - peaceful and not too hot, too cold, untidy or full of papers that need dealing with.
  • Make sure that your bedroom is really dark until it is time to get up.  If your curtains let in the light in the morning so you wake early, wear an eye mask to block out the light.
  • Use your bedroom only for sleeping (or sexual activity) so that your brain knows that is what the bedroom is for.  It is not a good idea to have a television in the bedroom or watch television in bed.  Even if you fall asleep while watching, the sound will disturb your sleep. 
  • Go for a walk during the day.  Daylight and exercise help synchronise your body clock and improve your sleep. 
  • Experts are divided on whether it is a good thing to take a nap during the day.  In many parts of the world, a siesta is part of the daily routine.  If you feel a benefit from a nap, enjoy it, but napping for more than 20 minutes or in the late afternoon may disrupt your night's sleep.

Dealing with Anxieties and Stress

We have all experienced night frets: everything seems more disastrous in the night.  

If your sleep is disturbed by anxieties, research published recently showed that one of the most effective ways of helping yourself to sleep better is simply to write down your anxieties and your plans for the following day before going to bed. Do this at least an hour before you go to bed.

Follow these guidelines, and you should soon notice an improvement in your sleep.  If not, depending on the nature of your problem, book a session with someone who offers help in sleeping or anxiety or stress.  I have found that hypnotherapy, NLP and Havening Techniques are very good for dealing with these issues, and I can offer sessions over Skype.

Roger Gilbert

Article written by Roger Gilbert - Leeds

Anxiety/Stress: "Roger has been a fantastic support. I have found him a sensitive and easy person to discuss my concerns with. He has enabled me to deal with anxiety with regard to work issues, in particular cyber phobia. I am now feeling much calmer and confident about work related issues.... I... [read more]

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