We do it every day but often don’t take care of it
I give workshops and talks to organisations on reducing stress and building resilience. In essence they tend to cover things like why stress builds up, how to recognise the symptoms, how to reduce the impact and making tiny changes for longterm health.
Stress is something that affects us all, it doesn’t respect position or seniority, and when we strip it all back we are all susceptible to the negative impact of stress overload. We just have different triggers and thresholds.
One of the basic things we can do to build resilience to stress is to address sleep – not quantity but quality sleep.
It’s probably the most popular topic that people want to talk about – how to get a good night’s sleep.
Because almost everyone has experienced a bad night’s sleep at some time in their lives. Whether it’s disrupted because of children or pets, whether it’s having trouble getting to sleep because of whirling thoughts, whether it’s a restless night with lots of broken dreams, whether it’s that 3am wake up that feels lonely and sad and you know you need to get back to sleep but you just can’t, whether it’s waking up at 5am every day without any reason… whatever it is, the end result is that it impacts badly on your day.
Sleep is not just a pillar of health, it’s the foundation. Anyone who has gone through the early stages of parenthood will attest to the torture that is a broken night’s sleep – in fact, interfering with sleep is a recognised torture strategy used by the military!
People can go for weeks/months/years on poor diets or no exercise without falling over (well, they survive, they might not be healthy on it) but fiddle around with your sleep for 1/2/3 nights and you certainly feel the effects…
Your productivity drops
Your focus and concentration are impaired
Your decision-making skills are reduced
Your emotions are all over the place
You feel sick/light-headed/lack energy
Your balance and co-ordination abilities are affected
Your blood pressure may increase which can lead to long-term issues like heart disease
You are more prone to accidents
You eat the wrong things and drink the wrong drinks which can lead to long-term health problems like obesity, diabetes
Your immune system is impaired, you catch colds/flu/illnesses easily
Prolonged lack of sleep (less than 5 hours per night over several years) has been implicated in early onset Alzheimer’s disease
…until eventually you can’t take any more and you just need to sleep!
Take parenthood – in our modern world it’s tough. We allow a short period of time to ‘adjust’ to what amounts to a monumental shift in lifestyle (certainly when the first baby arrives, subsequent offspring are not quite such a shock to the system!) and 99.9% of new parents are not prepared for the change. Because you can’t be, you can only learn through experiencing it first hand and within your particular situation.
And the change in sleep is the biggest shock of all – no longer can you slip under that duvet knowing you’re going to have 8 hours of uninterrupted sleep, no longer will you lie in until 9am or 10am on a Sunday morning, and no longer is your bed your own space.
But it’s not only confined to parents, many people struggle with poor sleep patterns due to things like environmental issues (light pollution, noise, heat), habits, stress, physical changes (menopause, periods, puberty).
So how do you cope if you are struggling with poor sleep patterns?
1. Maintain perspective: keep in mind that nothing lasts forever, it’s always a phase. For parents, eventually, the first few days morph into a routine and your body adjusts to the demands. You might not get 8 hours sleep every night but that morning you wake up at 6am without having to get up since the last midnight feed is a turning point. And for non-parents, interrupted sleep is usually down to something happening in your environment, some kind of change – perhaps there are issues at work, finances are tight, relationship breakdown, whatever it is, it’s also a phase. And whilst you can’t predict how long it will last, hold on to the fact that it will change because nothing stays the same forever.
2. Give sleep priority. Make a routine around your sleep (see the sleep calculator download at the end), look at the benefits of getting a decent night’s sleep over binge-watching that boxset, or burning the midnight oil on building your business because your productivity will not be great if you are over-tired.
3. Make your bedroom a boredom zone. Keep electronics out, there is evidence that the blue light emitted by tablets and phones interferes with the production of melatonin, the hormone that makes you sleepy. Your brain should recognise that when you go into your bedroom it’s a place to relax and sleep, not to be stimulated and switch on.
4. And make your bedroom a sanctuary. Favourite duvet covers, limited ‘stuff’ around, keep it cool (16-18 degrees Celsius), make it dark (no stand-by lights), comfortable bed (it’s advisable to change your mattress every 8-10 years), favourite smell.
5. Get an alarm clock! That removes the ‘I use my phone to wake me in the morning’ excuse. Psychologically, having your phone beside you keeps it in the forefront of your mind, no matter whether it’s turned off, on silent or on airplane mode, you are still poised to check it.
6. Support your night sleep with periods of rest in the day. We all naturally follow a circadian rhythm (a 24 hour period that tells our bodies when to sleep, eat, rest, be active) and an ultradian rhythm, our waking rest-activity cycle which is roughly 90-110 minutes long broken down into approximately 90 minutes of activity and approximately 20 minutes of rest. That means that throughout the day we have naturals lows, times when it would benefit us to relax, nap, break focus, rest and by allowing ourselves to do so just a couple of times during the day (say, late morning and late afternoon using our own natural rest cycle) we help our brains catch up on some information processing – and that means there’s not so much for it to do at night during the REM phase of sleep. When we have too much to process, our brains can’t stop whirling, and will wake you up or stop you falling asleep or throw out vivid dreams, all of which reduce the quality of your sleep.
If you would like to know more about sleep and how you can improve it for your better health, we can plan a talk or workshop around getting the most out of your sleep, for better productivity and improved safety (remember that list of how lack of sleep affects us?) in your workplace. Alternatively you might want a personal chat about your own sleep issues and how hypnotherapy can help you.
And you can download our sleep calculator here
If you would like to discuss any of the above, please contact us on 01798 344879 or email firstname.lastname@example.org