Humans are thought to spend a whole THIRD of their lives sleeping!
This comes as a huge surprise when we think of how many of us (myself included) have had those nights where we lay awake staring at the ceiling, or close our eyes just for them to keep opening themselves against our will.
We try to focus our minds on something else, but the thoughts always return to what happened that day or what will happen tomorrow – or in the future etc.
It’s a bloody nightmare!
One way to stop this from happening is by focussing on TODAY!
With an estimated 1.5 MILLION people in the UK and 40 MILLION Americans suffering from over 70 different sleep disorders, (including sleep apnea, snoring, restless legs and sleep anxiety), there has been a HUGE amount of research done on the matter.
I actually use the FitBit Charge to monitor my own sleep. The changes in REM and Slow-wave sleep (whether I’ve been dreaming or not) are super interesting!
The American Psychological Association claims that over 40% of adults in the US get so sleepy during the day that it actually interferes with their every day lives!
According to research done by the UK Sleep Council, a huge 70% of Brits sleep for less than 7 hours a night and only 22% sleep for 7-8 hours!
This is a stark contrast to what we have been made to believe is the necessary time we should allocate to sleep.
We have always been told that 8 hours is the optimum sleep time to allow our body and mind to rejuvenate, refresh and be able to function well during the day.
It is now widely believed that we actually need anywhere between 6-9 hours in order to feel refreshed and to function well both mentally and physically.
So, getting only 6 hours of sleep is not actually a terrible thing after all. So, it’s not that it’s about getting more sleep, it’s about being able to sleep better.
Surprisingly though, just 7% of Brits get less than 5 hours sleep.
This is defined as a “very poor sleep” and is what I have personally lived like for the past 10 years.
In fact, if I sleep for more than 6 hours, I wake up feeling MORE tired!
I know…I’m a very strange woman!
Why is it so Important to Have a Good Sleep?
A Stronger Brain:
Improved Concentration, Alertness, Productivity and Memory
Your brain needs oxygen, energy and rest in order to help you concentrate and remember things.
While you sleep, your brain has a chance to prepare for the next day, helping you to be more proactive with time management and be more effective and productive.
Getting a good nights sleep improves your problem-solving skills and enables you to make good decisions.
A lack of sleep leads to a slower reaction time.
Have you ever noticed how you might move slower or take longer to do things in the morning. You might be lucky and just be a “morning person”, but many people find it difficult to get up and going in the mornings.
Most of the people who suffer with this symptom of sleep deprivation also have problems managing their time, which can be disastrous for work settings.
Microsleep is when you sleep for a few seconds when you are actually awake! Some people who fall into a Microsleep probably do not even realise it.
Remember at school or that boring meeting at work when you closed your eyes whilst listening to someone talking. When your eyes opened, the person had “skipped” a few sentences – but the time had not changed on the clock!
That was a Microsleep. You were asleep for a very brief moment and were more than likely completely unaware.
This has happened to people while driving cars and handling heavy machinery.
People falling asleep at the wheel of a car – or being overly tired causes an estimated 1500 deaths every year in the UK.
A More Positive Mood
Stress in itself is actually a healthy and positive thing.
Too much of it can be debilitating and dangerous to your health. It can lead to depression, anxiety, poor concentration, anger and tension (and much more).
Negativity in general is draining and keeps you feeling more tired.
Cortisol levels (the hormone responsible for helping control blood sugar levels, metabolism, memory and blood pressure) are raised when you are stressed.
This creates barriers with the hormone responsible for regulating your sleep (Melatonin). A lack of sleep can make your Cortisol levels peak and drop and the wrong times of day and can affect your overall mood, weight and memory.
This is also why many students taking their GCSE, college or University exams are at high-risk of breakdowns and mental health problems. A lot of these students do not get the time they need to really relax, rebuild and sleep.
Suicide, Depression, Anxiety and risk-taking behaviour are all mental health problems which have been linked to sleep deprivation.
Have you ever noticed that you or your child are grumpy after getting a bad nights sleep? This is because sleep actually improves the activity in your brain – whereas sleep deprivation negatively alters it.
Better Physical Health
Sleep gives your body a chance to heal the stresses of the day. Much of the repairing of heart muscles and blood vessels happens when you sleep.
Long-term sleep deficiency can result in an increased risk of heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes and stroke.
While you sleep, your immune system also produces proteins called Cytokines.
These proteins help promote the benefits of sleep and they decrease in production when there is a lack of sleep.
This reduction in Cytokines leads to a lower ability to fight infection and inflammation.
Keeps your Weight Healthy
Research has shown that sleep deprivation is directly linked to obesity.
As mentioned above, Cortisol is also responsible for helping to take care of your metabolism.
As the Cortisol levels are raised, your metabolism and therefore, your weight can suffer the consequences.
Ghrelin and Leptin are the main hormones that make you feel hungry and full and without sleep, the balance of these hormones is knocked off. This makes you hungrier during the day.
So, the less you sleep, the hungrier you tend to be during the next day. There are some very simple diet tips you can live by to lose weight faster, but it is always easier with exercise and more sleep.
Diabetes is also linked to a lack of sleep, as your insulin levels change and your blood sugar levels increase with a lack of sleep.
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What Causes Sleep Problems?
The physical environment around you has a huge influence on your sleep.
The air quality, noise, location, weather, people etc. can make you want to sleep, or make you completely wide-awake!
If there is a party next door, for example, you are more than likely going to struggle to get to sleep with all that noise going on!
If you are cold and the heating won’t work or the window won’t shut,
…or you’re in a tent?!
All of these things directly affect the way your body prepares for “regeneration time”.
Be aware of your surroundings.
Being on your phone is also considered as part of your environment. Phones use a “blue screen” in the background (although some phones have a filter for this) which is a stimulant.
Staring at your phone, computer or TV just before bed tells your brain that you want to stay awake.
Even if you manage to fall asleep watching something on TV, you are very likely to wake up during the night due to your sleep not being initiated properly.
Certain Food at Certain Times
There are actually certain foods that can make you sleep better and foods that can make your sleep patterns disturbed.
It is also known that you should never eat a big meal before bed.
The foods / drinks that you should avoid for around 4 hours before bed include:
- High fat foods (leading you to the bathroom at night)
- Protein (contains Tyrosine which promotes brain activity)
- Caffeine / Chocolate (natural stimulants)
- Alcohol (leads to an interrupted sleep)
- Nicotine (not food, but don’t do it before bed as it is a stimulant)
- Fatty foods (can cause heartburn while laying down)
Check out this post for effective diet tips to help you lose weight faster.
Anxiety and Negative Thinking
Stress, anxiety and worrying all release high levels of Cortisol – which, as we know, keeps you awake.
It just seems to be a vicious cycle of:
Worry = no sleep = Anxiety = no sleep = Stress = No sleep = Worry …and so on!
This is why it is SO IMPORTANT to think positively.
You must also always make sure that you surround yourself with positive people whenever possible. Negative people create negative experiences, which then create negative thoughts.
Irregular work schedule / routine
If you have an irregular routine – bed at 9pm one night and 1am the next night, your body clock gets all messed up!
Have you ever noticed that if a baby does not get to sleep at the “normal” time, they get upset? Or if you have to get up earlier than usual on a weekend, you get upset?
Well, this is because your body is not used to the changes.
Keeping a regular routine teaches your body clock to be prepared and helps with being able to settle down in the evening.
Some medications can have a direct affect on your sleep pattern and others can cause drowsiness.
These side-effects are always listed on packets of medications where it might occur:
- Beta blockers and Nicotine replacement drugs can cause nightmares and Insomnia.
- Anti-arrhythmics and certain medications that help depression and anxiety can cause daytime drowsiness and fatigue.
Always check the labels on your medication if you feel like a medication is making you drowsy or changing your sleep pattern, as your doctor may be able to prescribe an alternative.
How can I get a better sleep routine?
Ok, so here we get to the most important part!
HOW do you get yourself into a better sleep routine?
If you follow all of the following (obviously, it will take some training to be able to do them all), you will soon find that your patterns of sleep and the length of sleep you have WILL improve.
Work out a regular exercise routine.
Do not overdo it if you are not used to exercising though, as you will wear your body out before it has had a chance to get started.
Research shows that regular exercise (as little as 10 minutes every day) can help you to sleep better and stop feeling tired.
Avoid Naughty Foods and Stimulants Before Bed
As has already been mentioned, eating before bed has a negative impact on your sleep pattern.
Eating foods which are high in protein can lead to poor digestion during sleep – prompting you to use the toilet more often at night.
Drinking things with caffeine, or using other stimulants such as nicotine can cause your brain to wire itself awake and prevent you from falling straight to sleep. These stimulants also interrupt sleep through the night, as although you are sleeping, your brain is still wired from the high you gave it before bed!
Meditation / Mindfulness (Train yourself to focus on “nothing” before bed)
Mindfulness is a great way of relaxing your body and focussing your thoughts on “nothing” except yourself. Some people can find it quite difficult to get started or to focus on one thing at first, so here are two of my favourite audio files on YouTube that I use nightly:
One of the best ways to use mindfulness as a beginner mediator is by doing a guided mediation on YouTube or a “body scan”.
You can get a variety of FREE downloadable exercises HERE.
Create a Healthy Sleeping Environment
A comfy bed makes all the difference to a good nights sleep. It is no good having springs poking up all over the place or stupidly flat pillows that resemble a sheet rather than a soft place to sink your head into after a long day.
If you do not have the money for a whole new mattress (most of us don’t!), then you can always buy a bed comforter to go under your sheet.
I use a bed comforter / mattress topper and cover it with a duvet. Then I put my bottom sheet on and get into bed with my top duvet.
Oh. My. Gosh!
I’ve never felt comfort like it!
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No TV in bedroom or electronic devices before bed
A bedroom should be thought of as a place for sleep. Just sleep.
Most people these days have a TV in their bedroom, but that creates an illusion of comfort that is not real. Having a TV in the same place as you sleep confuses your brain. Rather than it thinking,
“Ok, we are going into the bedroom to sleep now.”
“Ok, we are going into the bedroom to watch some more TV while I stay awake for a while.”
Keep distractions to the bare minimum.
Keep your TV, computer and mobile phone off and away from you for the last 30-60 minutes before bed.
Electronic devices use a “blue screen” in the background as a stimulant, which can make sleep difficult. It is not the fact that you are communicating to others that is the problem, it is purely the stimulation that you get from that screen being right in front of your face.
Keep any light out
Obviously, any light that you see during bedtime gives you something to focus on that also means keeping your eyes open.
We automatically relate light with “awake” and dark with “asleep”.
So, try to turn all lights off and close those curtains before you get into bed.
Create Bedtime and Morning Routines
Make sure you have a set time for when you will wake up and go to bed and try to stick to it.
My morning routine is quite long because I like to get things done to save time in the evening. I’m also a single mum.
But. Yours can be as simple as you like, e.g.:
- Wake up at 6.30am
- Breakfast at 6.45am
- Make-up / get ready at 7am
- Leave for work / school / whatever it is that you do with your days
- Get home at 6.30pm
- Dinner at 7.15pm
- Play with the kids / talk to your friends / network etc. at 7.45pm
- Bath / showers at 8pm
- Relax and wind-down time at 8.30pm
- Bedtime at 10pm
Obviously, this will be completely different for most people – mine looks nothing like that, but I still have a morning routine!
Napping during the day might seem like a great idea at the time, but by doing that, you are taking the necessary sleeping time away from when it should actually be happening.
Try to push through and hold off on any naps that you might be craving so that you sleep better later on.
When you get to bedtime you are much more likely to “konk out” as soon as your head hits the pillow than if you “topped” yourself up during the day.
Warm bath and a Wee before bed
There is nothing more relaxing than getting in a nice, warm, soapy bath just before bed.
Put out some candles (if you don’t mind them in your house) or turn the light off and leave the door ajar to let in just a stream of warming light, add in the bubble bath and some bath bombs and away you go.
Soothing. Calming. Relaxing. Ready for bed.
When you’re done with all that, go for a quick widdle just so you don’t have to get back up to use the toilet half an hour after you’ve gone to bed!
So, try to remember…
Why is it so important to get a good nights sleep?
- A Stronger Brain: Improved Concentration, Alertness, Productivity and Memory
- A More Positive Mood
- Better Physical Health
- Keeps your Weight Healthy
What causes sleep problems?
- Certain Food at Certain Times
- Anxiety / Negative Thinking
- Irregular work schedule / routine
How to sleep better and stop feeling tired?
- Regular Exercise
- Avoid Naughty Foods and Stimulants Before Bed
- Meditation / Mindfulness (Train yourself to focus on “nothing” before bed)
- Create a Healthy Sleeping Environment (comfy bed, No TV in bedroom or electronic devices before bed, Keep light out)
- Create Bedtime and Morning Routines
- Don’t nap
- Warm bath and a Wee before bed