And sleep….

Let’s look at the first and, I’d say, the most important element of the Mordue’s Self Care Triangle!

A good nights sleep sorts out all sorts of things! Sleep can be difficult for all sorts of reasons. This heat at the moment probably isn’t helping a lot of us. Then there’s things preying on your mind that you keep mulling over when you should be asleep. For some, sleep isn’t an easy thing to achieve but it’s absolutely crucial to well-being in ways that go far beyond you being grumpy the following day!

It is estimated that 1 in 2 people are not getting sufficient sleep!Physically our body uses the time to recover and replenish and sleep has an essential role in the consolidation of memories. “Routinely sleeping less than six or seven hours a night demolishes your immune system, more than doubling your risk of cancer. Insufficient sleep is a key lifestyle factor determining whether or not you develop Alzheimer’s disease. Inadequate sleep – even moderate reduction for just one week – disrupts blood sugar levels so profoundly that you would be classified as pre-diabetic…” and the list goes on [from Matthew Walker’s ‘Why We Sleep’ (Page 3)] So, what advice is out there on getting to sleep!

Keep to a regular bedtime routine
As a parent I’ve said it myself and heard others say it. “Babies, they love a routine! Keeps them right!” Much as we kick against habit as adults we are creatures of routine. Your body is programmed into a chemical routine that does its best to achieve sleep, rest, and waking. And what do we do!? We ignore it. We stop up late and wonder why we are tired the next day. We get up late and wonder why we then can’t get to sleep the next night. Then there’s the impact of alcohol and caffeine. What we end up achieving is the disruption of our programmed chemical clock. And when we don’t attend to it for long enough the situation becomes chronic.

Sleep at regular times
Walker (2017) suggests that we need 7 to 8 hours of sleep a night and that we should be sleeping from about 10 to 10.30 until 6 to 6.30. These timings are in tune with our natural rhythm. So that’s your starting point. You should also maintain this 7 days a week. Lost sleep is lost sleep. In terms of what your body is trying to achieve with sleep you can’t catch it up on a weekend. The opportunity has gone.

Don’t go to bed hyped
While exercise is an important aspect of self care you should avoid it for 2 or 3 hours before bed time. A good way to wind down is to have a warm bath – again…. isn’t that part of the routine we give babies. This clever little trick prepares your body for sleep. It’s not the heat on its own that creates the sleepy mood. It’s the impact of the heat on your core temperature. Do you feel cold when you are tired or when it’s late on a night? Part of your programmed sleep preparation is a drop in core body temperature. The hot bath draws the blood to the surface of your body and therefore reduces your core temperature. Clever body!

Do something that relaxes you
There are a huge range of yoga and relaxation CD’s and Apps out there that might help you. Anything that calms your mind and distracts you from your ‘racing’ thoughts. You could try audio books, or read a book, or maybe listen to the radio. You should try to avoid TV and smart phones as, not only do the stimulate, but the light they emit kids your brain into thinking it’s not dark out there! We need to prepare our bodies for sleep with a darkened environment.

Be comfortable and create a ‘clean’ environment
It sounds obvious I guess, but, have the best mattress and pillows you can afford. Try different numbers of pillows and different types. You may find a harder or softer pillow helps. You should keep your bedroom for sleep (and sex…. unlike most other vigorous activity sex makes you sleepy!) Avoid distractions like TV’s and ticking clocks and keep the room tidy. Make your bed when you first get up so when you eventually get to bed after that hard day it looks clean, tidy, and inviting. Your bedroom should be cool (between 18 and 24 centigrade – but go low) and dark. No glowing lights from inside or outside the bedroom.

and my favourite…. Write ‘to do‘ lists for tomorrow
One of the main things that keeps people awake is trying to remember things they need to do tomorrow. Before you go to bed (or ideally at the end of your working day… more on that in an upcoming blog) write down everything you need to do the next day, safely leaving them so you can find them when you need to, without having them going round and round in your head. Keep a note pad by your bed. If you think of something while in bed, write it down. There’s good evidence that externalising memories in this way can help us ‘put them to bed’ to help put us ‘to bed’!

What else…
Inevitably for some making such self care changes isn’t enough. These ideas are effective for many and you need to give them a good month or so to see what the impact is. But if you find that you are consistently trying these things and they are not working then you should seek medical advice. Walker (2017) has concern that this simply leads to the prescription pad and, in his view, drugs don’t work as they don’t achieve the right sort of sleep but are more of a sedative than good quality sleep. So, you feel you have been asleep, but have missed many of the benefits. Your GP should be able to refer you to sleep specialists. It would be useful while trying to make changes that you keep a sleep diary. This should detail what you have done during the day, how you have prepared for sleep, what it is that’s keeping you awake, how often do you wake – make sure you document as much as you can.

Try these things out… what have you got to lose?

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