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Are you getting enough sleep?

24th February 2019by Centred Counselling0News

Are you getting enough sleep?

24th February 2019 by Centred Counselling0
hernan-sanchez-160709-unsplash.jpg?fit=1200%2C801&ssl=1

Most people have a sleep/wake cycle, also knows as a circadian rhythm, it is the way that our bodies monitor our environment in order to indicate internally when it is time carry out particular tasks, such as hormone release, eating habits and digestion. Circadian rhythm changes throughout life and is often not noticed until for whatever reason, the sleep pattern is disrupted.

What happens when we sleep?

At night time the darkness is seen through our eyes and a message is sent to the part of the brain called the hypothalamus, and the connection between darkness and feeling tired is stimulated.  Our bodies then receive a signal to release a chemical called melatonin which indicates to the body that it’s time to feel tired.

There are four phases of sleep that cycle around a few times each night. Undisturbed, each cycle runs between 90 -110 minutes:

Phase 1:  Our bodies become relaxed and our thought processes begin to slow down. In this sleepy state, it’s easy to be woken by noises, and it’s at this stage that people can sometimes experience that horrible sensation of falling.

Phase 2: It is harder to be woken from this stage but is still considered light sleep, our heartbeat slows and body temperature drops. It is in this stage that your brain that has been collecting information all day, now has the time to review and appropriately file your findings in your memory, this can be quite a creative process.  Some people will recognise that this has happened after falling asleep with a practical problem and waking up with the solution.

Phase 3: This stage is a much deeper sleep and it can be hard to wake a person, typically people that sleepwalk or talk in their sleep are in this stage when they become animated. This is the body’s maintenance part of sleep and is the most restorative, it’s the time when the most growth hormone is released which is necessary for the ongoing health of muscle and bones. Sleep is essential for maintaining healthy immune systems, regulating blood pressure, body temperature and moods.

Phase 4: This is the stage where REM (rapid eye movement) sleep happens, our brains become active as though awake, however, we are dreaming.  It is thought that the parts of the brain that are connected with learning and making sense of things are awake and are the source of dreams.

Most adults need between 7-9 hours of sleep a night, teenagers and children require more.  It has been thought that older people require less sleep, however, they still need a minimum of 7 hours a night.

What happens when we don’t get enough sleep?

The type of sleep that you experience is important for your health. Sleeping for 8 hours in a row is not the same as sleeping for 9 hours that are broken. Sleep deprivation is when you don’t get enough sleep, however sleeping during the day, or not being able to sleep through all the phases 1-4 can lead to sleep deficiency.

Sleeping is as integral to survival as eating and drinking, sleep deficiency over a period of time can lead to less productivity, accidents, slower healing, obesity, diabetes, mental health problems such as sleep disorders, depression and seasonal affective disorder.

Who is at risk?

Obviously, anyone that isn’t able to get enough sleep, this might be due to work, caring for others, environmental factors such as noise or safety. People that work shifts or during the night, emergency staff, people that must travel a great distance to and from work.

Medication that impacts on alertness, alcohol or drugs can impair a person’s ability to sleep sufficiently. People that have anxiety, stress or a sleep disorder.

Are you getting enough sleep?

Many people will experience unexpected naps whilst watching TV or reading, or just after lunch. Consider the times that you have been in a meeting, classroom, in a car and have felt yourself dropping off to sleep, and most difficult to handle is when you are so sleepy but you are talking to someone, you notice you are not tracking the conversation because you are stifling consistent yawns.

If you find it difficult to focus, solve problems, make decisions or have memory difficulties this may be an indication that you need more sleep.  Many people experience inconsistent emotions in response to daily events, finding themselves more reactionary or withdrawn.

Keeping a sleep/mood diary can be helpful. For a few weeks monitor how much sleep you are getting during the night, how easy was it to drop off to sleep, did you remain asleep? How did you feel on waking? How were your energy and concentration levels during the day?

Sleep Hygiene

If you think you may have sleep deficiency then perhaps now is a good time to consider how you might change things up a bit and improve your bedtime routine. We all live very unique lives and some of the changes on the list might be ok for you, others may not, chose the ones that will fit into your life.

    • Work out what time you have to be up in the morning, count back 8 hours, this will give you the time you need to go to sleep by. Adjust this to more or less time if 8 hours is not right for you. Try to create a regular bedtime and getting up time, this will help your circadian rhythm. Try not to alter these timings at the weekend by more than an hour.
    • Wind down in the last hour before bedtime. A warm relaxing bath with aromatherapy, a cup of hot milk, a small snack is ok. Avoid caffeine, nicotine and exercise as these are stimulants. Avoid alcohol, although it can act as a sedative it will disrupt your sleep cycle.
    • Avoid electronic screens as they tend to have bright lights that affect your body’s ability to pick up on the cues of it being night time and may get in the way of melatonin being produced. Media and games tend to stimulate parts of the brain that encourage alertness and therefore can be unhelpful too.
    • During the day, try to ensure you go outside and be physically active, walking, running, swimming, cycling, yoga etc. Being active for even a short amount of time can aid sleep.
    • Consider the temperature of your bedroom, is it dark enough? Is it quiet enough? Is your bed comfortable? If you don’t sleep well in silence, try a white noise app or other ambient sounds. If your room is too light, try blackout curtains and ensure electronics are turned off. Eye masks and earplugs can help if your room is too bright or loud.
    • If you nap during the day, try to keep it to less than 30 minutes and as early in the day as possible so as not to affect your bedtime.
    • Try to keep your bedroom as a place just for you to sleep or have sex. Remove any items that remind you of work or things that need doing. Ensure sheets and blankets are fresh and clean.
    • Write a to-do list or journal in the hour before bed, get all those thoughts out before you try to sleep. If you enjoy reading then use a light source that is slightly dimmed.

There will always be the occasional night where no matter what you do, you are still awake and watching the clock. Try not to stress if this happens, if you are still awake after 20 minutes, get up and go into a different room. Check in with yourself, if you are worrying – write it down.  If you feel tense, try some mindfulness or meditation. Repeat an activity that comforts and relaxes you, and then after 30 minutes, try to sleep again.

If after keeping a sleep diary and following the above ideas you are still struggling to get sufficient sleep, you may need to contact and discuss your difficulties with your GP.

Cover image courtesy of:

Hernan Sanchez


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