Sleep and how to get it

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We spend around a third of our lives asleep.  We set aside special rooms, special clothes and special furniture for it.  Many of us have set routines around sleep, and sleep deprivation can have severe health consequences.  Despite sleep being so important, no-one really knows for certain why we do it.  Plenty of research has been done and a number of theories have been proposed.

Lack of sleep can have a significant effect on your mood – increasing stress, anger and anxiety while decreasing happiness.  A former Prime Minister may have declared that “sleep is for wimps”, but there is plenty of evidence that actually sleep is vital for physical, emotional and mental health and stability.

However, good-quality sleep can also be difficult to get.  While lack of sleep may increase depression and anxiety, it is also true that sleeping poorly can be a result of those conditions.  So how do you break the cycle?

Getting good sleep might take planning.  Behaviours to promote good sleep are known as “sleep hygiene”.  That doesn’t mean cleaning up or taking a bath, but can be part of it!

Here are some tips for good sleep hygiene:

  • Get into a routine – try to go to bed and get up at the same times each day.  Start the wind-down process an hour or two before bedtime.
  • Avoid stimulants such as caffeine, nicotine or energy drinks from mid-afternoon onwards.
  • Avoid intense exercise late at night – try stretches or yoga instead, and get your aerobic exercise done early in the day.
  • Have a warm or hot bath, then allow your body temperature to drop slowly – try not to keep your bedroom too warm.  You can also try a warm milky drink for this.  While it might seem counter-intuitive, good quality sleep is linked to a lower core body temperature.
  • Avoid using electronic devices in bed, or having a TV on in the room.
  • Avoid fast-paced TV shows, for example where the perspective or action changes every few minutes, in the hour before bed.  Try gentle music, or a book.
  • Ensure your bedroom is comfortable – check your mattress is in good condition (being jabbed by springs won’t help) and that your curtains cut out light properly.  Make your bedroom a place for relaxation, a sanctuary for sleep.
  • If you do wake up in the night, give yourself 15 to 20 minutes to get back to sleep without trying to force it.  Try not to stare at your clock, either.  If you are still awake after that, try going for a glass of water or pick up a book until you feel sleepy again.  Associating your bed with stressful feelings can make things worse.
  • Keep a diary of sleep times and quality, along with records of food/drink/exercise/medication/events.  You may find there is a pattern that could explain your sleep difficulties and help you resolve them.
  • If you have a sleep issue such as insomnia, narcolepsy or restless leg syndrome, it is worth discussing it with your GP.  Likewise a GP visit is helpful if you would like to discuss the sleeplessness you may be suffering as a result of depression and anxiety.  If you would like to try talking therapy to work through these issues, please feel free to contact me.