Updated: Oct 19, 2020
Did you know that we spend about one-third of our lives sleeping!
Amongst our busy and sometimes erratic lifestyles, it is too easy to sacrifice sleep and not make it a priority.
However, if we take a moment to think about the impact sleep (or more importantly a lack of it) has on both our physical and mental health – will we change how we think about sleep and how we incorporate it into our everyday routine?
So why do we need sleep?
Sleep is as essential as breathing and eating. Our bodies and mind need time to rest and recharge. Sleep allows cells to repair and regrow.
Whilst we sleep, our brain converts short-term memories into long-term ones and it clears out any unneeded information to avoid cluttering up our central nervous system. Brain activity increases in areas that regulate emotion and therefore supports emotional stability. For example, when we get enough sleep our amygdala (the part of the brain in charge of the fear response) can respond more rationally, however, when sleep-deprived the amygdala is more likely to overreact.
Sleep deprivation leads to suppressed immune system, increased appetite and in turn weight gain and it also increases the risk of heart disease and stroke. I’m sure you can also relate to how irritable and impatient you can be after a poor night’s sleep!
What messages are you giving your mind and body?
Do you go to bed whenever you feel like it or do you tend to go to bed at the same time? Having a bedtime routine is not just for kids! Going to bed at the same time every night and waking up at the same time every morning (including at the weekends), will not only improve the quality of your sleep but it will also result in you falling asleep faster.
What you do before you go to sleep will also affect how well you sleep at night. As hard as it is in today’s society to get off your phone or other devices, it is advised to have no screen time up to two hours before bedtime. The blue light emitted from screens is particularly bad as it suppresses the body’s production of melatonin – the hormone responsible for inducing sleep. So being on your phone just before switching the light off will make it harder to fall asleep and affect the quality of your sleep.
It’s not only the hours leading up to bedtime we need to take into consideration. For many, caffeine can be our best friend during the day but our worst enemy at night. Did you know that caffeine has a half-life of roughly 5-hours in our body? Meaning that if you have a coffee at 2pm containing 150mg of caffeine, at midnight roughly 37mg of caffeine will still be active in your system. Now that afternoon coffee or tea is not going to help you sleep!
It is important that your body and mind know and understand that your bedroom is the place where you sleep. Make sure your bedroom has a calming effect and is a place where you rest and relax. Remember that any light will fool the body’s natural circadian rhythm to think it's time to be awake. The air temperature in the room will affect your sleep too.
Once awake, do you find yourself thinking about all your to-dos? Join the club! One way I combat this is to have pen and paper by the side of my bed to jot them down. If I continue to lie there thinking about what I need to do, I will get out of my bed and go into another room. If necessary, I will then read a book to help tire the mind and return to bed when I know there is more chance of falling asleep again.
Nightmares or night terrors
Been woken by a nightmare or a night terror is a horrible experience. They are usually linked with stress, trauma or an existing mental health condition. In order, to fall asleep again, remind yourself it was only a dream and then reconnect with the here-and-now by noticing what you see around you. To reduce or avoid further nightmares, try the 'Dream Completion Technique' which provides your brain with "dream material" which will counteract what the nightmare or night terror left you feeling when it woke you up. Keep an eye out for more information about this technique on Hannah Carter Therapy’s Facebook page.
May this knowledge around sleep hygiene and setting a routine help you get a better night’s sleep.
If introducing a new healthier sleep routine does not help, talk to your doctor or a sleep specialist to determine the underlying cause of your sleep deprivation.