As it’s holiday time for many, and busy schedules might be a little more relaxed than usual, I wanted to write about something that’s often neglected in conversations about wellbeing: sleep.
From lowering stress levels and blood pressure to boosting immune systems and keeping hearts healthy, good sleep should be a priority item in each of our personal, preventative first aid kits.
It really is a magic tonic, and just as important as healthy diet, if not more so.
A couple of years ago I read a book called Why We Sleep by Matthew Walker, a neuroscience and psychology professor.
I would really recommend reading this book, or watching one of the summaries of it on YouTube.
Walker and his colleagues spent years researching why we spend so much of our lives asleep, and their work proved the connection between lack of sleep throughout life and numerous illnesses, both mental and physical.
The bottom line is that sleep deprivation isn’t just a little bit unhealthy, it’s actually dangerous, and although some people appear to be able to function well without it, ultimately we all need good sleep if we are going to stay healthy into later life.
As you probably know, a night of less than ideal sleep can lead to negative symptoms the following day, including lack of concentration and coordination, increased appetite, problems in decision making and anxiety.
It’s been said that a night without sleep leads to a day without perspective, and I can definitely vouch for the truth in that.
These immediate, short-term symptoms are easy to recognise but what most people don’t realise is that accumulated sleep deprivation can, over time, lead to more serious health problems including severe anxiety and depression, dementia, diabetes, stroke and obesity.
In the past, getting good sleep has sometimes been seen as lazy, and well known people have stated that they don’t need much of it to function well.
My main takeaway from Walker’s book was that placing a priority on good sleep and helping others around you to do the same isn’t laziness, it’s love.
Ideally, we should all be aiming for between seven and eight hours of uninterrupted sleep per night.
Getting to sleep can be difficult when you have a busy mind, and if you sometimes struggle, training yourself to recognise and relish your night time routine is a good idea.
Here are some tips that may help you:
- try to treat your bedroom as a sort of sanctuary, and keep it as clutter free as you can. Aim to switch your mobile phone off or to sleep mode an hour before turning out the light
- try to avoid all screens directly before bed time. The light emitted by electronic devices can confuse our biological clocks and lead to interference with circadian rhythms, which are essential to good sleep and most other elements of good health
- use lavender or another natural sleep spray to help you relax
- read a novel or listen to a spoken book to transport your mind into a story that will help you to stop obsessing about your own
- try to wake up naturally if at all possible. If you have to use an alarm, try a gentle birdsong or other natural sound
- try to keep to the same sleep and wake times every day, including at weekends.
If you really struggle with a racing mind, or wake up in the night worrying about what you have to do the next day, consider writing down thoughts or meditating before you turn the light out.
Be extra kind to yourself at times when good sleep is proving difficult.
Try to reduce day time pressures and remember that your ability to function well will be lower than normal.
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