Sleep has a massive impact on our ability to cope with daily life. I often hear you can do anything when you have a good nights sleep and I totally agree. When I was unwell I would sleep between 2 and 4 hours and got through my days as well as I could with depression. I could take or leave sleep, it wasn’t a priority, wasn’t on my list. If I laid in bed and not slept well, I didn’t really notice much impact for about 5 – 6 months and then I would crash on a Sunday afternoon and sleep through family film time. This has changed for me now – I put lots of effort into getting quality sleep, more so than quantity.
Its one factor I see changing as a result of coaching my clients, that they can go from over-sleeping or under-sleeping to getting restful nights of sleep and healthy sleep habits. Its become a focus, a ‘dream’ – pardon the pun.
“I love the silent hour of night, for blissful dreams may then arise, Revealing to my charmed sight – What may not bless my waking eyes.” – Anne Brontë
We know we need to rest, to recover, rebuild and re-energise. But it can be hard to get a good night sleep if we are holding onto the emotions and thoughts experienced during the day. Replaying conversations and wishing we had said something else, wishing we didn’t do some things and did do other things, and remembering all the things we didn’t get around to doing that day can lead to tossing and turning, racing thoughts, and staring at the ceiling and watching the clock.
Continued sleep problems increase our risk of heart disease, developing diabetes, and impact our immune system. When we are sleep-deprived, we are unable to think clearly and rationally. It can make us irritable, which makes us more hyper-alert to the interactions we have with others. Lack of sleep can make us more sensitive to perceived threats – when it comes to defense, a tired opponent is weaker and more vulnerable to attack. But this can trigger anxious thoughts and feelings, and our inner alarm system edges closer to red alert. This cycle of not sleeping because you feel anxious, and feeling anxious because you’re not having quality sleep, can be hard to break.
Although stimulants like caffeine and nicotine can make us feel more awake during the day when we’re tired, it can disrupt our sleeping patterns at night too. If you are using these crutches to support your day, try to limit them in the hours leading up to your bedtime. You may decide that you become less reliant on these stimulants in favour of another alternative that offers comfort without the side effects.
Alcohol can interfere with sleeping patterns too, so while you might think it can help you to get to sleep, it can cause you to wake more often throughout the night. It has a comfortable numbing effect that blocks out the whirring in our heads at times of stress or anxiety. Instead, try swapping for some of the various herbal teas available, some contain natural ingredients thought to relax and aid a peaceful night’s sleep. After a poor nights sleep, your crutch might be caffeine – strong coffee, or energy drinks.
Whilst the initial boost from these drinks might feel good, they stimulate the ‘fight or flight’ response in our bodies, so can contribute to making the feelings of anxiety worse. People who are sensitive to the effects of caffeine may feel the symptoms of anxiety for a few days after consumption.
Some studies have looked at the link between blue light and sleep patterns, suggesting the light mimics daylight enough to disrupt our natural body clock. Blue light refers to that which emits from electronic screens – mobile phones, tablets, laptops – the distractions we use when we are struggling with worries, stresses, and poor sleep habits. Whilst cutting down on the use of these devices prior to your regular sleep pattern will help, you may wish to look at night-time settings on your electronic devices which dim the screen light emitted. Blue-light blocking glasses offer the same benefits – they screen out the blue light from a screen, restoring normal sleep patterns. It’s thought that these filtering glasses help shift-workers particularly, with sleep duration, quality of sleep and to address sleep problems.
Rest is important for our growth and recovery. Developing a healthy sleep routine can help lower your feelings of anxiety. Adding exercise into your day helps by relieving tension and can help reset your body’s natural body clock. Some forms of exercise can be relaxing for your body as well as your mind – for example swimming, walking the dog, yoga. Making room for some quiet time before bed helps too – reading a book and avoiding tv, enjoying a warm bath in peace, or listening to relaxing music.
It may help to start keeping a journal, so you can get all of your thoughts down on paper so your brain gets trained to relax and let go of the things that have been bothering you. You could try some mindfulness techniques such as colouring books or meditation audios which soothe your mind and body. You may wish to talk to your doctor about more ways to help you get a restful sleep.
“Time and time again, sleep medicine professionals and researchers came up against the belief that sleep was not important enough in personal health and well-being to be a priority. That coupled with society’s 24/7 flow, the founders of this awareness event aim to celebrate the importance of healthy sleep.”
Source: World Sleep Day, March 15
Sleep may seem like a waste of time to the busy, who may stave off tiredness in favour of getting through an endless to-do list. In fact, many people don’t realise that they are sleep deprived, and its a common pattern of thinking in modern life. But the health implications are worthy of consideration. Ongoing sleep disturbance can lead to obesity, emotional highs-and-lows and a lowered perception of quality of life.
When you are sleep deprived, you become less energised and less productive. Look at it this way – you have less energy to do the things you love, the things that excite, the things that give you joy.
Are you really too busy and too short on time to enjoy your own life?