Wednesday, 21 December 2011

My sleep feature

Striving For Slumber

Research consistently concludes that a lack of sleep can have a detrimental effect on our health and overall well-being. Phoebe Doyle looks at ways to help our sleep deprived bodies and our stressed out souls.
Worries about family and work are apparently the aspects of our lives most likely to keep us anxiously awake into the early hours.  “Sleep is one of the first things affected by any form of psychological problem, such as stress, depression or anxiety. As all three are increasingly widespread, it’s no surprise our sleep is suffering”, says Dan Roberts ( of The Wellbeing Coach. He explains just how sleep becomes disturbed; “when people are stressed they often find both the length and quality of sleep is affected. Because your system is over-revved by stress hormones including cortisol and adrenaline, your mind races as you lie there, tossing and turning.”
“Now approximately 10-15% of us, suffer with our sleep”, says Matt Broadway-Horner a Cognitive Behavioural Therapist from CBT In The City ( , and what’s more this problem is more common in women than men. Matt says; “half of sufferers report severe symptoms occurring nightly; they take 2 hours or more to fall asleep initially and 1 hour or more waking during the night.”
Quantity and Quality
So how much sleep do we need? Really, the answer is that you need enough sleep to feel like you can get through your everyday life! Chris Idzikowski, Director of the Edinburgh Sleep Centre insists; “we actually need as much as we think we need. Anywhere between 5.5-9.5 hours is fine. More or less may still not be much of a problem. Some people are short sleepers - if you feel sleepy, tired or unwell during the day after a short sleep then you're not a short sleeper!” Most adults claim to get between 5 and 10 hours each night and generally people start sleeping less as they get older.
When sleep is broken, it reduces the quality; “when people are stressed they often wake up and worry in the middle of the night – that awful 3am thinking when everything seems far worse than it really is – then they can’t get back to sleep. Bad dreams and nightmares, and non-restful sleep (where you wake up still feeling exhausted) are also common stress-related symptoms”, says Dan.
How Can We Switch Off – Top Tips for a Good Nights Kip
Whilst sleeping tablets are often prescribed for severe insomnia they can have pretty unpleasant side effects, such as confusion, forgetfulness and feeling lousy the following day. In fact some report feeling worse than if they’d not slept at all! Sleeping pills and sleep medications should be used only for short-term situations, and sparingly at that. Their effects are short-lived and so when used to treat long-term sleep issues there are serious concerns.
Thankfully though, there are many less intrusive methods to explore:
Don’t let your bedroom become your office – working on a computer in your room, or stressing over files is not conducive in the creation of an atmosphere fit for sleep. Matt says a client of his did just this; “she had to work hard to change her associations in the bedroom from working with document papers and her computer to a place fit for the purpose of sleep” Matt explains. Dan is keen for us to remove all technology; “only use your bedroom for sleeping and sex. No TVs; no laptops/smartphones in bed; keep your room cool and as dark as possible, with no ambient light and get as good a bed as you can afford, especially if you have back trouble (a common cause of insomnia).”
Try it tonight
Ban the box! Remove all TVs and laptops, remember bedrooms are for beds! Good quality, fresh bed linen can help make sleep more inviting too. So treat yourself and splash out!
Get yourself into a routine – try to go to bed at the same time each night and get up at the same time too, and yes I’m afraid this means even on weekends. If you have a bad night resist the urge to sleep in the day as this will upset the routine. Chris says, “It’s probably not a good idea for poor sleepers to nap during the day. However, there is also evidence to show that good sleepers - are precisely that, they can have a nap during the day without much effect the following night.”  Chris believes the key’s in training your biological clock; “the clock provides a window of opportunity each night for sleep to occur. A regular routine - going to bed and getting up at the same time helps keep the 'biological clock' running to a good schedule.”
Try it tonight
Give yourself a bedtime! Don’t make it too early though, if you aren’t tired enough to sleep you may lie awake feeling anxious.
Have a warm shower or bath – a hot bath will raise your body temperature but it’s the drop in temperature that follows this which should help you to snooze. Dan firmly believes in the power of; “a long hot bath before sleep”, it serves to relax you as well as to prepare your body temperature. Chris explains the biology at play; “your body’s natural rhythm means that your body temperature should go down late evening and during the early part of the night. One of the reasons this happens is because the blood vessels in the hands and feet, and also the face, open up to release heat. If the vessels are too constricted by cold then this may not happen. A warm bath helps to open up the blood vessels.”
Try it tonight
Have a warm bath about an hour before bedtime; try adding some sleep enhancing oils, lavender is a popular choice. Enjoy it; read a book, have some ‘you’ time.
Don’t just lie there- if you’ve been awake for 20 minutes or more Dan recommends; “if you can’t sleep, try ‘mindfulness meditation’ – this will calm you down and has a host of health benefits. Lie on your back with your eyes closed and bring your attention to your breath as it flows in and out of your nostrils. If the mind wanders, gently bring your attention back to the breath. Do this for 10min or more and you should feel calmer, more relaxed and hopefully fall asleep!”

Try it tonight
Refuse to think about anything that is stressful. Worrying about endless paper work? Tell yourself “that’s not a thought for now” and go back to your breathing exercise. In truth, nobody reaches any sensible conclusions in the early hours anyway!

Learn to say “no” – it’s vital to stay clear of caffeine and alcohol for the 4 hours leading up to bedtime if you’re having difficulty with sleep; caffeine blocks a sleep inducing chemical (called adenosine) and alcohol may leave you snoring or desperate for the loo! Dan recommends; “no caffeinated drinks after 6pm, alcohol in moderation if at all when you’re suffering from sleeplessness, and no heavy meals close to bedtime.”
Try it tonight
Camomile Tea is fantastically calming. Have a cup about an hour before bedtime. If you aren’t a herbal tea fan, remember that old adage of warm milk before bed helping you sleep? Give it a whirl! It can relax you as well as filling you up so that you won’t get any unwanted midnight hunger pangs!
Exercise – being active can really help you sleep as it should quash feelings of restlessness. Dan explains; “both cardiovascular exercise like running, spin classes, cycling or raquet sports and calming, meditative exercise like yoga or tai chi are powerful tools to combat sleep problems. The CV exercise burns off those stress hormones, makes you healthily tired and boosts your overall wellbeing, this makes you less stressed/anxious and so aids restful sleep.
“Calming exercise deactivates your stress response and activates your relaxation response. But no vigorous exercise too close to bedtime or it will keep you awake.”
Try it today
Exercising in the morning is the best time in so many ways; you get it over with, you’ll feel ready to face the challenges of the day, and it won’t interfere with sleep. Seek out a gym that opens at 6am (some even start classes then) to ensure your schedule isn’t dictated by their opening hours!
 A decent night’s kip is made up of the following elements…
  • Drowsiness: here you are in a relaxed state although still not fully asleep. This stage can last for 10-15 minutes.
  • Light Sleep: During light sleep the eye movements stop, heart rate decreases, and our body temperature goes down.
  • Deep Sleep: It’s during the deep sleep stage that your body releases a growth hormone for mental and physical cell repairs.
  • REM (Rapid Eye Movement) Sleep:  During REM sleep, eye movement’s increase as does heart rate. During REM sleep we have our dreams.
Yoga teacher Fenella Lindsell believes simple Yoga exercises can help you to drift off…
Fenella tells us; “Space Breathing can be a very effective way of clearing the mind of thoughts and allowing the body to feel relaxed and calm. It’s a very productive way of preparing the body for sleep and de-cluttering the mind of thought and is equally valuable if you wake up in the middle of the night and find it difficult to get back to sleep. This is how you do it…
Breathe in and breathe out, count 1,
Breathe in and breathe out, count 1,2
Breathe in and breathe out, count 1,2,3
Breathe in and breathe out, count 1,2,3, 4 until you have a space between the breaths of 10 counts and then return to normal breathing.”


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  2. In addition to consolidating memories, or making them stronger, when you get enough sleep your brain appears to reorganize and restructure them, which may result in more creativity as well.