The importance of sleep is now underwritten by firm data. Unless you have a very rare gene, you need around 8 hours a night. According to Dr Matthew Walker, one of the leading sleep researchers, you are more likely to be hit by lightening than to have this gene. You may think that you don’t need this amount of sleep. However, the reality is that missing out on hours of this vital rest and the physiological states means you are compromising both your health and your longevity.
Here are some simple and practical strategies to consider. Sleeping well is a habit. This requires practice each day and can be thought in the same way that you look after your oral health by cleaning your teeth each day. Do you debate whether you will do this properly and regularly each day?
The follow tips are based on the work of Dr Matthew Walker, who has written a very good book, Why We Sleep, and appears on numerous podcasts including a recent one with Michael Gervais here*. And so onto the tips so that you can create your own routine.
We will talk about your sleep and strategies in your session.
Almost everyone (adults) should aim for 7.5 to 8 hours a night.
Set the same bedtime and rise time every day. That is weekdays and weekends. We need regularity.
Make sure your room is dark. This is important for the melatonin release that is part of the start of the sleep cycle. Use blinds or even a mask if necessary.
Preparing for bed, we should try to eliminate unnecessary artificial light sources. For example, phones, iPads, computers, TVs. We are bombarded with artifiucla lights for much of your day, which disrupts the cycle by our brains predicting wakefulness when we actually need to sleep.
Our body temperature must drop for sleep. It is easier to fall asleep in a cool room than a warm one. If the atmosphere is too warm, we will wake and disturb the sleep cycles, disrupting the important effects of sleep. Consider your bedding, clothing and perhaps open a window. Additionally, a hot bath and then the change in body temperature when you get out (cooling) can help.
One of the best ways of taking control and creating calm is by taking some time to breathe more slowly and deeply. This triggers more parasympathetic activity, which is the opposite of the sympathetic (fright, flight, freeze) that is so often activated by life: stress,
Try counting to 5 as you breathe in, and to 5 as you breathe out. Notice what happens in your body. You could jot this down in your journal. Spend 2-3 minutes doing 5/5 breathing or at least 12 cycles of breathing.
You can write down things that are on your mind. You may even do this on the way home and deal with any issues before you walk in through the door, deciding to leave stressful thoughts out of the home.
You may like to explore other ways that work for you in creating calm.
Associate your bed with sleep (not being awake)
If you really are awake in bed, you are better off getting up and going to get a drink of water (plus the movement) and then using a calming practice. Avoid light and screens and anything else that is stimulating.
Caffeine remains in your system for 12 hours. 25% of it will still be active 12 hours after you have a cup of coffee. That is midnight if you have a coffee at midday. This will disrupt the quality of your sleep.
Alcohol disrupts sleep. It has a sedative effect that can be mistaken for sleep. You will not achieve the necessary restful states for sleep to do its job.
Sleeping pills (prescription)
Sleeping pills do not produce natural sleep. They are hypnotic sedatives and associated with other serious health issues such as cancer. If you are considering this route, you may like to have an in-depth discussion with your doctor about the pluses and minuses.
Managing your energy during the day
Sleep is not separate to the rest of the day. The way that you manage your energy through the day is important. We will design a strategy for you in your sessions. Here are a few important practices: take breaks every 45 minutes at least (it may be less or more depending on your needs); have a lunch break; make sure you move through the day; keep hydrated; connect with people who energise you; get into nature, even just for a few moments.
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