April is sleep awareness month so let's look at the importance of sleep to our physical health and some home tips for improving our sleep quality.
Disturbed sleep is probably one of the top complaints from people we see in the clinic irrespective of what session they are having with us. Sleep seems such an odd concept - why on earth would Mother Nature insist on us needing a long period of unconsciousness every night, we're prey animals so why would it be a good idea for us to be very vulnerable for hours each night ? In doesn't seem to make evolutionary sense. Yet the relationship between physical health and good quality sleep is well documented.... sleep is essential for many so physical functions in our bodies. Whilst we sleep our bodies are feverishly producing growth hormones to aid cell repair, hormones to help us feel fuller or more hungry and regulating our response to insulin and producing vital white blood cells to boost our immune system.
Chronically disturbed sleep leads to a whole host of issues including high blood pressure, obesity, increased risk of stroke and developing type II diabetes ..... and that's not even including any impacts on our memory, cognition and performance. So if it's so important to our wellbeing it would be a good thing to prioritise, right ? Yet so much of our modern life seems designed to get in the way of us getting a good solid sleep each night so here are some simple tips to try at home.
1. Consistent routine
Routine is ' a sequence of actions regularly followed ' .... emphasis on the regular part of that definition. As any parent of any baby willl testify to the end of day ' bath, story, and bottle ' routine signals to a young child's brain that sleep follows next and as adults we are no different, our brains will follow cues to signal that sleep is on the horizon. Our bodies work on circadian rhthyms ( sort of our internal clock ) which are generally part of our DNA - we are all naturally either larks or night-owls - but our our cardio-vascular system is particularly influenced. It's one of the reasons shift workers are more likely to develop heart disease and blood pressure issues. Your routine needn't be super strict - the world just doesn't work that way, there will always be that late night party or a long haul flight - but ideally these exceptions shouldn't become the norm. Choose a time and try to stick roughly to the same bedtime AND waking time ... even on the weekends.
In an ideal world, whether a lark or a night owl, we would all get up at the time that feels natural for us. Realistically for most our work or school dictates when we get up so the best bet is to figure out the time you need to wake up for and work backwards to try and ensure you get a solid block of sleep. Alternatively a short ' power nap ' during the day can help to ensure you are getting an adequate amount of sleep...... Don't nap too long though !
2. Create a good environment for sleep
This is contentious as I would say that there are huge personal variations on what makes a ' good environment ' - my son could sleep through an earthquake whereas my daughter woke up if a mouse moved a pebble in the garden ..... ironically she now struggles to sleep if the room is too quiet ! So the ideal sleeping environment is much more variable and to a certain extent probably depends upon the individual and what they are used to i.e if you grew up on a busy road then traffic may not bother you etc. However there are a couple of things which are super important - relative darkness and no tech / screens in the room !
Darkness promotes the release of a hormone called melatonin which helps to manage your sleep-waking cycle promoting good quality sleep - the blue light and stimulation provided by screens also diminishes the production of melatonin. From a psychological perspective it also associates your bed with being wakeful and alert, the exact opposite of sleep ! A dimly lit or completely dark room can help with melatonin production and help you drift off to a restful sleep.
" If you're struggling to get back to sleep then get up - don't lie there staring at the ceiling! "
Exercise is great for encouraging a good night's sleep providing it's not too close to bedtime. Outdoor exercise in particular is wonderful as it exposes us to daylight which helps to regulate melatonin levels. Not only does exercise directly physically tire the body out but it also decreases the risk of obesity which in itself can lead to obstructive sleep apnoea and a disrupted night's sleep.
Its a two way street too, a decent nights sleep will have the effect of allowing for better exercise performance as our tissues repair and recover so they are better prepared to perform at your next exercise session.
4. Go to bed when you are tired
Sounds obvious right ? But many of us go to bed because it's a convenient time as our partner is turning in of rthe night or it's the end of the latest episode of Succession etc. but not necessarily because we feel tired. Remember those circadian rhthyms we talked about earlier ? Our body works in ' sleep cycles ' gradually surfacing and sinking into lighter and deeper sleep around every 90 minutes. You know when you are sittig on the sofa feeling sleepy but when you go upstairs in 20 minutes time you then lie there staring at the ceiling as sleep eludes you. Well, you sort of missed your ' sleep slot ' the point where you are sinking into the deeper point of sleep. Take yourself to bed when you feel those eyelids starting to droop and if you miss it then you may be best to wait until the next phase of the sleep cycle arrives - maybe fill the time with having a warm bath or shower or maybe some light yoga or meditation.
5. It's about quality not necessarily quantity
So how much sleep is best ?
There really isn't a magic number of hours, there is a recommended amount but even that varies hugely depending on our age, overall health and daily activity level. Whilst the recommendation for adults is between 7-9 hours we all know of those annoying people who manage quite happily on 4-5 hours of sleep - usually captains of industry or politicians. Far more important is how you feel when you wake up. If you regularly wake after 5 or 6 hours sleep feeling well rested and are productive and functioning well during the day then you may be one of those lucky folks that just doesn't need as much sleep. Conversely if you are still waking groggy and irritable after a good solid 8 hours then it may be your not getting good quality sleep ... concentrate on the tips for promoting good sleep hygiene so that the sleep you have is restful and doing the job it needs to.
This is a simplistic whistle-stop view of sleep problems and I'm not suggesting that just a few simple tips are always enough to solve a long term sleep problem. Outside stressors such as work, family or financial can be major factors in creating and maintaining sleep issue but sleep is so imperitive to our wellbeing that we need to prioritise it. If we can help at all then please give us a call. Acupuncture, Reiki, Massage, Reflexology and exercise are all play their part and sometimes it's just great to be able to explore different ways of helping.