Sleep Easy: A guide to getting a good night's sleep
Is a good night’s sleep of 7-8 hours something you dream about? Do you stay up till all hours of the night, then find yourself finally drifting off at 3am, only for the alarm to go off like Bow Bells at 6am? Well rest easy, here’s my guide to getting a good night’s sleep without the use of medication. In this blog you will learn what sleep your body needs, the symptoms of sleep deprivation, some science behind it and a guide to creating the perfect night’s sleep.
As we all know a good night’s sleep is a great investment in ourselves and those around us, and should be made a top priority. The quality of our sleep can have a direct impact on our physical and mental wellbeing and productivity. The stresses and demands on our modern day life, it’s no surprise that our sleep is suffering. We eat later and find little time for exercise. Our living environments have changed and are far less conducive to a good night’s sleep than we would like. We now spend up to 90% of our time indoors, during the autumn and winter months, under false lighting, which again is not favourable for peaceful slumber at night.
The hours of sleep our body need
As we get older our sleep pattern changes. A baby spends 16-20 hours asleep throughout the 24 hours. As we get older the need for sleep declines. Children need between 11-12 hours. Teens will need around 9 hours of sleep a night and adults around 7-8 hours. The elderly probably need the same amount of sleep as any other adult but may be broken down in more than one block of sleep. Elderly people’s sleep patterns can become more disturbed due to certain medical issues, such as arthritis, thyroids, diabetes, heart problems, and respiratory disorders such as sleep apnoea.
Sleep deprivation or sleep disorders can play havoc with our mental wellbeing, physical and mental performance, mood, behaviours, diet, cognitive skills, as well as a whole host of chronic health problems. Shift workers often suffer with ‘Shift work sleep disorder’. This is a condition that happens to shift workers and occurs when we receive too little sleep at the wrong time of day. This interferes with our 24hour body clock (circadian rhythm). A detailed study (2012) into Night Shift workers sleep disorder by the Brigham and Women’s Hospital and Harvard Medical School, discovered that there are indications that ‘the decrease in insulin production during the disrupted sleep led to inadequate blood sugar control, which could account for the increased risk of diabetes’.
Symptoms when sleep deprived
When you’re not receiving a regular 7-8 hours and are sleep deprived you can often feel;
o unrefreshed after sleep
o continually drowsy during the day
o lethargic, sluggish and demotivated
o unable to concentrate
o irritable and bad tempered
o heightened stress and anxiety
o Depressed, and feelings of low self-esteem and confidence
o difficulty with personal and family relationships
Thankfully for most of us this is only a short term problem and soon passes, usually after we’ve been under short term stress (transient insomnia). For those of you that do suffer more long term, over a month with at least three nights a week of disturbed sleep (Chronic Insomnia), it’s definitely no picnic in the park. If this sounds like you and you’ve tried all the self-help advice then you should really seek professional medical advice.
The Science of sleep
One of the hormones responsible for our bodies daily cycle and sleep is Melatonin. It’s very light sensitive. So when light levels reduce (night time) the melatonin gets released into our bloodstream from the pineal gland in our brains and sends us off to sleep.
In a normal night’s sleep there are 4 stages in the sleep cycle: Non-REM stage 1, 2, 3, and stage 4 the REM (rapid eye movement) sleep. These stages progress in a cycle. It is thought that a complete sleep cycle takes an average of between 90 to 110 minutes, with each stage lasting between 5 to 15 minutes. The deep REM sleep usually occurs 90 minutes after falling asleep and is when the sleep works on learning and memory. The first sleep cycles each night have relatively short REM sleeps and long periods of deep sleep but later in the night, REM periods lengthen and deep sleep time decreases. Stimulants such as caffeine and alcohol reduce your REM sleep.
Test for sleep deprivation
If you’re not sure and want to check if you’re sleep deprived in any way, then there’s a very simple test you can do. It’s called ‘The sleep onset latency test’. I first learned about this through the BBC, when scientist, journalist and TV broadcaster Doctor Michael Mosley, discussed sleep on ‘Trust me I’m a Doctor’ series, and here’s what he says you need to do;
1. Lie down in sleeping position in a quiet, darkened room in the early afternoon, and hold a spoon over the edge of your bed.
2. Put a metal tray on the floor underneath the hovering spoon, check the time and close your eyes. When you fall asleep, the spoon will drop from your fingers and hit the tray to wake you up. Then, check the time to see how long it takes you to fall asleep. If you fall asleep within five minutes of closing your eyes, you’re severely sleep deprived. If it takes you ten minutes, this is ‘of concern’. Anything more than 15 minutes, he says, is fine.
So if you have done the test and find that you are probably sleep deprived then here’s my guide to getting a good night’s sleep. Note: Many of the step trackers have an option to measure your sleep patterns and heart rates during the night. This can give you a more detailed view of the quality of your sleep.
The perfect sleep environment
Surprisingly the environment is not always the first consideration for many that suffer long term sleep deprivation or disruptive sleep patterns, and yet this is a key factor in getting a good night’s sleep. When we consider our sleep environment, how it looks visually is not the only consideration we should have. We should also think about room temperature, colour, distractions, noise, lighting and smells.
De-clutter your bedroom – make it an environment that oozes relaxation and restfulness, and more of a sanctuary than a storage area. See my tips on de-cluttering and finding your authentic wardrobe, also de-cluttering and finding your authentic bookshelf if you have a bookshelf installed in your bedroom.
Paint in calm and restfulness – A restful, calming colour scheme such as neutral and pastel shades work well. The National Sleep Foundation recommend light blue as the optimal colour scheme, as the photoreceptors in the retina (ganglion cells) are most sensitive to blue. The receptors relay information to the part of the brain responsible for the circadian rhythm (body clock). The National Sleep Foundation say the brain recognises blue as a calming and relaxing colour, this reduces your blood pressure and heart rate, which is essential for a good night’s sleep.
Set the temperature to just right – The UK’s Sleep Council recommend that the room temperature for a perfect night’s sleep should be between 16-17°C, that’s 61-62°F. If you’re not sure of the temperature use a thermostat in your room. If too cool eliminate any drafts and bring the temperature up. If it’s too hot cool your bedroom down by using a fan, preferably noise and turbulence reduced fans to minimise drafts. Alternatively, open a window and ventilate the room as much as possible. For really hot evenings sleep above the covers or just a very light cotton sheet over you.
Invest in a really good mattress – If you’re serious about getting a good night’s sleep then this is a must. Now there are gazillions of different mattresses, so do your research and find the best one for your particular needs. A good mattress is a little pricey, around £300-£400 ($400-$500 US dollars) and upwards, but in my experience you can’t put a price on a good mattress. I encourage you if you can to try before you buy and put the same thought into your pillows and bedding at the same time.
Lights out! – Ideally switch the lights off. Keep them very low prior to preparing for sleep. Remember Melatonin is light sensitive, so the more light you have in your room, the less likely you are able to fall sleep. If you can afford it, invest in good quality curtains that don’t let any light pass through them or purchase a good eye mask. Nick Littlehales, a sleep expert for top athletes, including the British Cycling Team, says complete darkness is a fundamental factor for sleeping well.
Reduce the noise – As you sleep your brain continues to register noise, causing you to wake. If it’s noisy outside or you’re a light sleeper try using earplugs, fairly malleable ones, so that as you turn in bed while sleeping they don’t dig in and wake you.
Turn off those distractive gadgets! – Gadgets are a huge distraction to our sleep cycle. So wherever possible ban bedroom phones, tablets, computers and anything else that’s likely to go ping in the night! The only exception to this rule is gadgets that’s primary function is to aid sleep. The same goes for the TV. Ideally remove the TV from the bedroom. There’s mounting evidence that suggests that even when your TV is in standby mode, that this interferes with our circadian rhythm. So turn off the TV an hour before you sleep, and if it’s in the bedroom cover-up the standby light before sleeping.
Aroma – While planning the perfect sleep environment don’t forget to enhance the sleep experience through the aroma of your room. Research has evidenced that the scent of lavender reduces the heart rate and blood pressure. If lavender’s not for you, other scents that reduce stress and anxiety include; geranium, chamomile, bergamot, lemongrass, jasmine, orange or neroli, ylang ylang and marjoram. Try to rotate scents every two weeks.
There are many conflicting views on whether to adopt a routine as part of your sleep preparation or not. Some people swear by having a warm bath, milky drink and then read a book for 30 minutes. Others that have trouble sleeping say that having a ritual around sleep preparation can actually fuel anxiety. So I would try both and see what works well for you!
Your sleep mindset / state of mind
Anxiety and stress
Avoid going to bed while you feel anxious, stressed or angry, our mood and sleep are connected according to findings by the Harvard Medical School’s (2008). They say research indicates that stress and anxiety increase the body to be aroused, awake, and alert.
So a good tip is to write a journal to detail all your worries, concerns, and things to deal with should you find yourself thinking about work or home or just things on your mind. Then deal with them in the day. Make bathtime an event not a chore, using essential oils and low lighting with calm relaxing music in the background. Mindfulness and mediation are another great way to reduce feelings of anxiety and stress.
A tension, anxiety and stress reducing exercise
To minimise feelings of hightened stress try really tensing your arms, fingers and toes as tight as you can and hold it for between 5-10 seconds, then quickly release. Do this about 5 or 6 times, which should reduce any immediate tension you are feeling. To reduce stress, anxiety and anger I encourage you to also try Earthing. This is the simple act of walking barefoot on the earth.
This is a new alternative thinking. Living in the present, focusing objectively and non-judgementally on your breathing and acknowledging the slow rise of your chest and the exhale sensation of air passing through your nose. This allows you to relax the mind, reduce stress and bring you back to a calm state of tranquillity. You might want to look into subscribing to the many apps on mindfulness that are available. Always check the ratings, details and reviews before installing.
Prior to sleep relaxes and calms any anxiety you might be feeling from the day. There are many online guided sleep meditations, just find one that suits you. Make sure you don’t get disturbed. Draw your curtains or blinds. Sit still and comfortable in a relaxed position for about 30 minutes, listening to soothing music before you intend to sleep. Again there are many apps available. Always check the ratings, details and reviews before installing.
Foods that aid sleep
Eating before bedtime – Serotonin is a chemical neurotransmitter that induces feelings of calm and relaxation, making you feel drowsy before going to bed. Foods that are high in Serotonin include; any dairy product (cheese, yoghurt, milk), proteins salmon, nuts and tofu, also some carbohydrates such as cereals. Fruits such as Kiwi, pineapple, banana, plums, red grapes and tomatoes are a good source of serotonin, as well as dark chocolate.
Full stomach or empty before bed?
The old wives tale of never going to bed on an empty stomach, is good advice. The same can be said for never going to bed on a full stomach. Leave about two hours before going to bed after an evening meal. If our stomachs are too empty studies show our brains stay alert, which will reduce the ability to sleep. If they are too full, this can lead to uncomfortable heartburn and bloating. The Serotonin rich foods detailed above should be only consumed late at night if you’re hungry before going to bed, as the effects lessen when competing with other acids in the bloodstream from earlier meals.
Liquids before bedtime– Experts say that if you want to avoid waking up to visit the bathroom, water shouldn’t be consumed any later than 90 minutes before bedtime. Milky drinks are a good idea as the milk has enzymes that produce Serotonin and Melatonin. Caffeine is a stimulant which excites the central nervous system, this raises your blood pressure, wakes up the nerves and triggers the brain to be highly active. So avoid tea, coffee, fizzy drinks and energy drinks at least 8 hours before going to sleep. Try peppermint or chamomile tea instead, but not alcohol. Studies show that Alcohol and sleep are bad bed partners, as it reduces Rapid Eye Movement (REM).
So you have now learnt a little more about your sleep, found out if you’re sleep deprived, how to prepare for a good night’s sleep and what to eat and when, so all there is left to wish you a goodnight’s sleep.
I would love to hear your feedback on this blog. Perhaps you have some experience yourself on sleeping problems or tips that you’d like to share with me. Please like and retweet this article on Twitter @AsterlifeC
If you want to discover your star potential and think I may be able to help you, then please call me 07752565740.
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