Do you sleep well, or do you find yourself tossing and turning in the early hours? In this month’s column, Certified Hypnotherapist and Critical Care Nurse, Sam Grainger offers tips on how to improve your sleep
We all need a good night’s sleep to function yet for many it can be difficult and cause a high degree of stress. Ironically this stress about getting to sleep making it only harder still. Myself? I feel a little fraudulent writing this article as I tend to sleep like a log. However, I think it is important to look at ways in which you can help yourself to improve your sleep. How many of you adhere to good sleep hygiene? Do you convince yourself you have good sleep hygiene – blaming all sorts of other reasons for lack of sleep?
What is sleep?
“The resting state in which the body is not active, and the mind is unconscious” Cambridge Dictionary
“A state of reduced mental and physical activity in which consciousness is altered and sensory activity is inhibited to a certain extent” Wikipedia
The average person sleeps between 7-9 hours, and you tend to require less sleep as you get older. Your body as a sleep cycle. This cycle repeats itself throughout the night. On average your sleep cycle will occur 3-5 times during the night. The sleep cycle consists of four stages.
The sleep cycle consists of non-REM sleep and REM sleep:
Non-REM sleep – your eyes don’t move, and brain activity slows. (Stage 1-3)
REM sleep – Brain activity and eye movement increases. The brain is processing information and it is in this stage you will dream. (Stage 4)
Sleep is essential it helps to give your body and your brain time to restore itself, so that it can continue to work efficiently. An average human spends one-third of their life asleep.
So, what happens when we are asleep?
1: Brain function
It allows the brain to reorganise itself. We take on board a lot of stimuli and information when we are awake. During the night the brain can process and reorganise this information. It converts short term memories to long term and allows unnecessary information to be deleted. When we wake up, we are ready to go again.
2: Repair and Restore
The body needs rest so that it can work well, it is while we are asleep that the bodies cells repair and regrow. There is chemical release which helps to strengthen and boost your immune system
3: Hormone regulation
Hormones have their own party while you are asleep. Levels of hormones regulate overnight, some increasing, some decreasing. For example, stress hormones decrease. Have you ever noticed how you feel tetchier and more stressed when you have not slept well. That you eat more and make poor food choices. This is all to do with hormones not getting chance to regulate themselves.
4: Mental health
Lack of sleep on a continuous basis or poor-quality sleep can lead to several mental health issues. Prolonged sleep deprivation can affect our ability to function, you may make mistakes, become forgetful and feel increasingly foggy-minded. This increases your likelihood of experiencing anxiety and depression.
Steps to improve your sleep:
1. Only go to bed when you are tired. Forcing sleep can be counter-productive
2. Slow down activity before going to bed. Try yoga, meditation or Pilates which relax the body
3. Avoid the use of electronic devices as this acts as a stimulant to the mind. Reading before bed is more beneficial in helping to relax the body and mind.
4. Alcohol and caffeine have a negative effect on sleep – you may use alcohol to help you sleep, but this is counter-productive as it will be poor quality sleep and you will likely wake in the early hours. opt for herbal teas, decaffeinated alternatives, or water.
5. Be consistent with sleep and waking times as this routine helps your body to develop a pattern.