Ahhhhhh…sleep…my favourite pastime 😊 Now I could say how ‘lucky’ I am that I sleep very well but I remember when I didn’t.  A time when I would cycle through phases of only having 2-3 hours sleep a night then sleeping for up to 16 hours a day.  A time when I never felt refreshed or energised and felt ‘ill’ all the time.  A healthy sleep pattern is something I had to learn how to do.

How well do you sleep?  In recent weeks, sleep is a topic that has come up again and again when talking to friends, family and colleagues.  It seems that most people I know don’t sleep very well at all and this concerns me as I know all too well the health consequences of not getting enough sleep.

Sleep is also one of my fave topics so I will do my best not to go off on a tangent here 😊 In order for us to address unhealthy sleeping patters, we first need to understand what it is…and WHY we need it.

Sleep can be broken down into two different categories – both equally as important as the other.

  • REM (Rapid Eye Movement) sleep -  it is during these times that the brain is strengthening neural connections, learning, processing and storing memories.
  • NREM (Non-Rapid Eye Movement) sleep - most commonly known as deep sleep.  In this phase of sleep our brain waves become slower and our bodies repair strengthening our immune system.

As you sleep, you cycle between the two.  REM is the stage of wakefulness after a deep sleep.  One third of our lives is spent asleep! So, what are the reasons we need so much of it? 

  • ‘Energy Conservation’ – sleep reduces our energy expenditure.
  • ‘Restorative’ sleep allows the body to repair and rejuvenate.
  •  ‘Brain Plasticity’ – sleep is needed for learning and development.

AND - I’ll try not to geek out now but I bloody love this stuff- the latest Neuroscience research has discovered another FASCINATING reason for sleep…The Glymphatic System!  This is the brains own lymphatic system and is most active when we sleep.  During sleep, all the unnecessary debris that has been collected throughout the day gets swept up by our cerebral spinal fluid and flushed out, how awesome is that?  Scientists now understand how crucial this is for us to maintain healthy brains subsequently meaning we are healthier overall.

Sleep should be a priority – not a luxury.  Yet we seem to be living in a world where people sleep less and less and wonder why they are experiencing other health issues.  Now for the not so great stuff I’m afraid but I feel it’s so important to address the consequences of lack of sleep first – then we can look at how we can improve it 😊

Lack of sleep or sleep disturbance has significant and serious effects on our brain health effecting ALL aspects of our health and well-being – physically, mentally and emotionally.

  • Physical – reduces your immunity, increases your risk of cancer, heart disease, diabetes, and metabolic issues (and you’ll be less likely to exercise.
  • Emotional – impacts your emotional control and response to stress.
  • Cognitive – impacts attention, memory, decision making and risk assessment.

Interestingly, for me particularly, is all the symptoms experienced from sleep disturbance are the same symptoms described by sufferers of many chronic health conditions – and they all share the same symptom of sleep disturbance.  We also know that lack of sleep, stress and depressed mood amplifies pain which in turn causes lack of sleep, stress and depressed mood. This can become a vicious cycle and this is why sleep is typically the first thing I address with my clients.

So why do so many of us take sleep for granted and not make it a priority?  The other challenge of course, is that we all have our own beliefs and perceptions around sleep i.e. ‘If I don’t have 8 hours sleep a night, I can’t function the next day’.  Our language plays a crucial role here because if we have a ‘bad’ night sleep and then continually tell ourselves how awful we feel guess what?  We will continue to feel awful.  Your brain believes what you tell it! So, if you believe you can’t have ‘normal’ sleep, you won’t.

What can we do to improve our sleep?  There are many things we can do, from going to bed earlier, sticking to a sleep routine, practising mindfulness or gratitude before bed, brain rehearsal (visualisation) and the list goes on.  Below are the most scientifically proven ways of improving sleep:

  • Try napping in the day.  Research shows a 25-minute nap (no more) improves memory and learning, sparks creativity and regulates emotions.
  • Try to get as much natural light during the day, and as little artificial light at night. 
  • Restrict use of light-emitting digital devices at bedtime (put your phone down!).
  • Keep your room cool.
  • Exercise daily (even just a brisk 15-minute walk will make a difference).
  • Address any negative thought patterns or beliefs you have about sleep. These can that can push temporary insomnia into long-term insomnia.

If you don’t sleep particularly well, try implementing some of these things and see if it makes a difference for you and most importantly, if you don’t already, please start making sleep a priority 😊