How are you (and yours) spending the hours between 22h00 and 5h00? If it’s listening to your partner snore, counting sheep, scrolling through your phone, playing Playstation, or watching television, this article is for you. It’s not just – why you should be getting your 7 – 8-hours in, but how to.
I know insomnia is nothing new to many of us, but 2020 has presented challenges that make clear and focused minds even more important than ever. This doesn’t always come from being awake and hyper-alert. The mystery that is our brain, does much of its work while we’re asleep. Here’s what a good nights sleep offers you:
A well-rested mind and body ensure greater intuition, innovation, imagination and the ability to make more informed, creative and conscious choices.
Lack of sleep increases the risk of heart disease, high blood pressure, unhealthy heart rates and erratic hormone levels – no matter what your age. All of these either exacerbate or contribute towards underlying comorbidities such as obesity, sugar diabetes, and cancer. Yes, it’s scary but rather know it now than later.
Sleep is vital in helping the brain to retain things we’ve learned during our waking hours. It helps consolidate long term memory by selectively strengthening some neural connections, whilst minimising others. I’ve heard that if you’re learning a script or preparing to make a speech, take a short nap every couple of hours – resting your brain while ‘studying’ helps to consolidate what you’ve learned.
- Awareness and Reasoning
Sleep deprivation can affect everything from cognition and attention to decision-making. This doesn’t only affect activities requiring mental focus but practical activities like safely driving a car. Almost like alcohol affects your brain, so too will a sleep-deprived brain impair your ability to react or respond after a bad night’s sleep.
Depression and sleep issues are often intimately connected. It works both ways: depression sufferers often sleep a lot but at the same time, frequently have problems sleeping. It’s also been proven that lack of sleep brings on depression – so this is a three-way-whammy. Regular sleep, in line with circadian rhythms, contributes to better mental health.
One of the most illuminating discoveries
in the last few years is that the brain clears out toxins much more rapidly while we’re asleep than when we’re awake. This is not only the toxins in the food we eat but those we inhale or generate within our bodies. Save yourself a tough detox and just get more rest.
Now for the How:
A few things you already know, but need to be reminded of: banning technology from your room and bed at least 1-hour before you close your eyes; ensure a comfortable room temperature; avoiding alcohol and caffeine, and doing some form of exercise during the day.
Here are a few not so well-known tips
Get at least 20 minutes of sunshine every day. Vitamin D helps regulate your sleep rhythms. If you can’t do the sun and you aren’t sleeping well, invest in Vitamin D supplements.
Heavy foods like red meat, or spicy foods eaten within 2-hours before going to sleep, are going to keep your body actively trying to digest this food while you’re sleeping. Save these meals for weekends or lunchtime.
- To-do Lists
Don’t sleep-on-it – write it down before bedtime and let it go. This way you know you won’t forget.
- Quiet thoughts
We often go to bed with our minds racing from the events of the day. Often it’s the negative things that come to roost at bedtime. Years ago, I took this advice and find it invaluable: buy yourself a little notebook, keep it next to your bed and every night before you close your eyes, list at least five things you are grateful for that day.
- Do what makes you smile
This is probably the toughest and most ignored, but I’ll include it anyway – Find an activity that does not involve a screen of any sort, and play. It could be music, dancing, playing with the kids, playing Scrabble or just talking – for this you can pick up the phone.
We, humans, are wired to connect. Never go through a day without connecting with someone. Don’t wait for them to call you – they may think you’re too busy. Share a little kindness and you’ll have something else to write on your gratitude list tonight.
We do it all day, unconsciously. Nighttime has a way of drawing our attention to worst-case scenarios, trapping us in an inability to breathe, let alone sleep. Conscious breathing
where one of the greatest solutions to insomnia lies. If you meditate, you already know this simple breathing technique that seldom fails to induce relaxation and ultimately sleep, here it is:
Lie comfortably on your back, placing your hand on your abdomen, inhale gently to the count of four. As you inhale, feel your abdomen expand. Exhale to the count of five and feel your abdomen contract, pushing your belly button down towards your spine. Continue purposefully – keeping your inhale count shorter than your exhales. This breathing informs your nervous system that all is well giving your body and mind permission to relax fully.