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Getting a good nights sleep

Good sleep improves our overall quality of life and increases productivity. For those who don’t sleep so well, the lack of sleep, over time, can become a major stressor, significantly impacting general health and wellbeing.

As someone who has had issues with sleep all of my life, I know first-hand just how precious a good night’s sleep is. I have also worked with many people with mental health issues ranging from anxiety, to severe mental illness such as psychosis. This means that I have learned a variety of techniques, which I have used myself, still use myself and have taught to others. Not only does this include ways to get to sleep, stay asleep and wake feeling refreshed, it may also include acceptance that a good night’s sleep is different for every person and acknowledging that our capacity for sleep changes throughout our lifetimes and according to our personal circumstances.

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People who report having poor sleep describe either having a hard time falling asleep, experiencing frequent sleep disturbances, (er hello, yep, that's me), waking unrefreshed and suffering daytime sleepiness as the most telling signs of poor sleep. Maybe you are simply find yourself being wide awake as soon as the lights go off, for no discernible reason, yet you can feel tired all day.

 

 

 Poor sleep may be attributable to many things. Often its due to worrying about something specific, such as money, health, or relationships. It may be down to unhelpful behaviours or habits to counteract feeling tired in the day like drinking high caffeine drinks, or taking other stimulants.  Or it may be due to a change in hormones, or other chemicals produced by the body, resulting in waking in the night having racing thoughts, about nothing in particular (hello again! Menopause!!). Napping in the day, although necessary at times, like if we are ill, can disrupt sleep patterns. Even not having enough activity or stimulation in the day, or having too much activity or stimulation in the day, can affect sleep. Its a minefield! For those taking medication, there may be side effects that affect sleep.

 

Most sleep problems tend to right themselves within a month or two, with some minor tweaks to our sleep behaviours, but if sleep continues to be a problem, help may need to be sought.

 

Poor sleep

Why is sleep so important?

We all know when we have had a good night’s sleep and the difference that makes to our day right?  We might be in a better mood, have better concentration, thus are more productive, have more patience with ourselves and with others, are better at making decisions that serve us.

But what about the science? What exactly is happening?

Sleep can be described as an altered state of consciousness where we have limited interactions with our surroundings and are relatively quiet and still (depending on the stage of sleep). Contrary to our quiet physical state, the brain is very active during sleep, carrying out many important functions.

 

Getting enough sleep has many benefits. It can help you:

  • Get sick less often

  • Stay at a healthy weight

  • Lower your risk for serious health problems, like diabetes and heart disease 

  • Reduce stress and improve your mood

  • Think more clearly and do better in school and at work

  • Get along better with people

  • Make good decisions and avoid injuries — for example, drowsy drivers cause thousands of car accidents every year

 

Good sleep is reported to support the function of our brain; improving concentration and focus, reducing the risk of long-term chronic illness, obesity, diabetes and heart disease, improving general immunity, reducing stress and improving mood. Studies also show that good sleep improves our overall health and wellbeing, and enhances relationships.

           “Sleep is truly interdisciplinary because it touches every aspect of health”.

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Paying attention to sleep hygiene is one of the most straightforward ways that you can set yourself up for better sleep. Good sleep hygiene means ensuring that your sleeping environment and daily routines promote optimum sleep conditions, i.e., consistent, uninterrupted, refreshing sleep. If I didn't follow my own sleep hygiene advice, my sleep would be a lot worse. 

Keeping a stable sleep schedule, making your bedroom comfortable and free of disruptions, following a relaxing pre-bed routine, calming the mind and nervous system and building healthy habits during the day can all contribute to ideal sleep hygiene. It can feel overwhelming at first, but if you stick with it, you will see results. The general advice is to pick one of the following tips (if you don't do it already!) and stick to it for 3 weeks. Record how well (or not) you sleep each day so that you can really observe what is happening.

 

  • Create regular sleep rituals - go to bed and get up same time every day. Yes, even weekends. This is only for 3 weeks of your life remember- and if your sleep improves, it will be worth it!!

  • Avoid napping in the day. If you feel like you do need a nap, first, have a glass of water (you may just be a little dehydrated) if you still feel like you need to shut your eyes, take a nap but aim to keep it to under 30 minutes.

  • No blue screen in the evening. NONE. Again, only for 3 weeks. You can do it!!

  • Reduce alcohol. Reduce sugary and caffeine drinks after 1pm.

  • Improve your gut health. (see our nutrition guide for more info on good gut health).

  • Reduce stress. (see our stress management module).

  • Make bedroom a sanctuary: dark, quiet, cool. Bed is for sleeping and sex.

  • Activity during day, early evening, not late at night.

  • Meditations, yoga, (yin or yoga nidra- gentle relaxing yoga basically) relaxation techniques, (such as deep breathing) warm bath - about an hour before bed (drop in temperature makes you feel sleepy).

  • Medications - make sure you are taking them the right time of day.

  • Do you have sleep apnoea? If you do be sure to follow the advice you know works for you. If you’re concerned, get yourself to your GP and talk it through.

  • Confront sleeplessness – if you’re awake, don’t stay in bed worrying, or stressing, get up. 

  • Write down your worries.

 

Sleep hygiene tips

If you need to make changes to your sleep routine to get a more fulfilling night’s sleep, start by picking one thing from the list above and action it tonight. Come back to this list in 3 weeks, and add another actionable thing to your sleep routine. Just like any other aspect of wellbeing, the key is to stay as consistent as you can. Respect your own energy and approach the change with self-love and kindness.

 

Look after yourself, because you deserve it. Sleep tight x

Resources:

  • NHS - CBT sleep programmes.

Talk to your GP about being referred to a CBT sleep programme

  • NHS - Every Mind Matters - Sleep

https://www.nhs.uk/every-mind-matters/mental-health-issues/sleep/

  • MIND - sleep advice

https://www.mind.org.uk/information-support/types-of-mental-health-problems/sleep-problems/about-sleep-and-mental-health/

 

  • Headspace

Meditation and Mindfulness App with sleep meditations, stories and soundscapes.

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