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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.  There was 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.  Like so many people, a healthy sleep pattern was not a priority for me – it was something I had to learn how to do.

How well do you sleep?

Do you prioritise sleep or is it a luxury?  I speak to so many people who tell me that they don’t sleep very well – either it’s disturbed and broken sleep or they struggle to get to sleep.  Of course, there are many factors that influence our sleep such as feeling stressed, anxious and overworked. Then there is the most common culprit – little people.  And let’s not ignore the fact that we have lived through a global pandemic for the last year which has also undoubtedly affected our sleeping patterns. The truth is though, not having good quality sleep can have some seriously negative consequences so we need to learn how to manage our sleeping habits as best we can. In order for us to address unhealthy sleeping patterns, we first need to understand what it is and WHY we need it.

What is sleep?

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.  Can you believe that one third of our lives is spent asleep!

So, why do we need so much sleep?
  • ‘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 seriously 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 amazing 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.  Let’s take a look at some of those negative consequences I mentioned,  then we can look at how to improve it 😊

Lack of sleep or sleep disturbance has significant and serious effects on our brain health effecting ALL aspects of our health and wellbeing – 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 that all of 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 which is why sleep is one of the first things I address with my clients.

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’.  Language plays a crucial role here because the more we focus on a thought and repeat it, the more important your brain believes it to be so it will continue to prioritise this.  If you repeatedly tell yourself you ‘can’t’ sleep for example or that  you feel awful if you’ve had a ‘bad’ nights sleep, this is likely to be what you will experience.

How can you improve sleep?

There are many things you 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 types of thoughts 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 😊

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