While We Sleep, Our Mind Goes on an Amazing Journey
Lets start with asking a few questions!
How many hours sleep do you manage each night?
How much sleep do you think you need?
Do you wake feeling rested and productive?
Sleep is a hot topic these days, you only have to use the search term 'Sleep' in the NHS website to be returned 2,616 search results. Topics include sleep apnoea, sleep tips for teenagers, sleep 'affects weight loss' and some free NHS Sleep Apps - one in particular 'Sleepstation Course' can be requested via your GP; which is a great alternative to medication.
So poor sleep is big news, yet you would think sleep is innate passive mechanism that we can all do with relative ease.
Not so unfortunately, I know myself, I'm sometimes awake all night fortunately it's not a regular event. I frequently find myself not getting off to sleep or waking throughout the night. Generally I know why - poor sleep hygiene, not stopping and getting some 'deep rest' or my chatty mind particularly noisy when I'm worried or stressed.
The National Geographic have a lovely way of describing the current trend of sleeplessness 'Our floodlit society has made sleep deprivation a lifestyle. But we know more than ever about how we rest - and how it keeps us healthy'.
Does any of this sound familiar?
So are there any consequences of poor sleep? I have several friends who are adamant they need just 4 hours sleep a night and they function perfectly normally. Perhaps they do, but it's definitely not for me and science suggests otherwise.
The science bit.........In 2017 the Nobel Prize for Medicine was awarded to 3 scientists who discovered that the molecular clock, (called Circadian Rhythms), inside our cells and they aim to keep us in sync with the sun. The Circadian rhythms are physical, mental and behavioral changes that follow a daily cycle. Our circadian rhythms are governed by our innate body clock; which is composed of specific molecules (proteins) that interact in cells throughout our body. Our body clock produces the circadian rhythm and regulates it's timings.
Then add the 'Master Clock' which is located in the brain and it coordinates all of the biological clocks, keeping all of them in sync. The master clock is located in the hypothalamus and responds to light/dark information input from the eyes.
The National Centre for Biotechnology Information, NCBI, states that 'good sleep is necessary for good physical and mental health and a good quality of life. Insufficient sleep is a pervasive and prominent problem in the modern 24-h society'. Read more here, in summary poor sleep can lead to the 'derailment of body systems', and is linked to chronic health condition such as obeseity, diabetes, inflammation, chronic pain, mental health disorders, seasonal affective disorder, increase of accidents in the work place or driving accidents,
In 2013 Sleep Council have published a great report called The Great British Bedtime Report.
It makes fascinating reading and here are some highlights:
22% sleep 7-8 hours a night
30% sleep 6-7 hours a night
33% sleep 5-6 hours a night
7% sleep less than 5 hours a night
27% experience poor quality sleep on a regular basis
41% feel positive after a good nights sleep
1/3 feel happy if they have a good nights sleep
1/4 feel more production on a good nights sleep.
If you consider the last 3 bullet points it does makes sense to improve our sleeping habits. So how much sleep do we need to perform our daily tasks, to feel good about ourselves and be productive. Well the evidence supports a range of between 6-9 hours! I know to feel fully productive and refreshed I need 8 hours sleep but I can function on 7 hours.
So how can you improve your sleep? Have you ever considered your 'sleep hygiene'? Human beings tend to like routine, we wake up at similar times, we eat at similar times so routine is generally important to us.
Here are some ideas on how you can improve your sleep:
Go to bed at the same time
Get up at at a similar time
Switch off all technology at least an hour before bedtime
Drink a 'sleep enhancing' drink - chamomile, or hot milk
Sleep in a cool and dark bedroom
Avoid caffeine and alcohol 2 hours before bed
Avoid eating your main meal late at night
Read a book to help you unwind
Remove TV, phones and ipads from the bedroom
Regular exercise throughout the week - this can be as simple as 15-20 min brisk walk
Meditation - use YouTube to locate a guided mediation sequence.
Sleep in a separate bedroom if you have a snoring partner!
Restorative Yoga poses - such as childs pose, legs up the wall or corpse pose. Here is a simple yoga sequence that can be done in bed before you drop off to sleep
Practice a breathing technique - more about this later on
A weekly or monthly Massage can ease symptoms of stress and tension
Join a weekly Restorative Yoga class
Homeopathy or TCM Acupuncture are both useful aids to poor sleep
As a Restorative and Functional Yoga teacher I prefer to focus on teaching techniques that can help to reduce stress and alleviate symptoms of pain. Addressing these two issues can improve our quality and quantity of sleep.
Information about my weekly yoga classes can be found online at Complete Balance.
A simple breathing technique; there are lots of different types of breath techniques and I like this one as can it be done at any time, doesn't require any equipment other than perhaps the timer on your phone.
I teach this technique in my weekly Restorative and Functional Yoga classes. This technique can be completed in a chair, in your car (whilst not driving!), at work, in the park, or at home in bed.
Find a peaceful spot, in the garden, in a car, at home - just some where you are not likely to be interrupted for 5 mins
Set your timer in your phone for 5 mins - if this feels too long try 3 mins
Be comfortable and warm
Bring your hands to your lap, palms facing up if comfortable in your shoulders
Close the eyes or adopt a soft gaze
Become aware of your breath
Inhale and exhale through the nose, feel and notice the rhythm of your inhale and exhale
As you inhale count 1,2,3,4,5 - PAUSE
As you exhale count 1,2,3,4,5 - PAUSE
Repeat for 3-5mins
If counting to 5 feels too long, alter the count to 1,2,3,4 or if it feels too short, increase the count to 1,2,3,4,5,6.
Keep the breath simple, become absorbed in the breath and how it feels in your body. If you lose count don't worry just bring yourself back to the next inhale and start the count again.
A Therapeutic Massage that includes the use of pain and stress management techniques such as Myofascial Release, EMMETT Technique, Trigger Point Therapy and the use of hot stones, can release tension, ease painful muscles that limit our range of movement and lead to feelings of pain. A monthly or weekly massage can reduce inflammation, reduce our stress levels by lowering the levels of the stress hormone - cortisone, and this will leave us feeling relaxed and calm.