• Jan Ockendon

To sleep or not to sleep

Sleep deprivation is a recognised form of torture and has been used as such for centuries. One of the ways it is used is as an interrogation aid. Prolonged sleep deprivation affects cognitive functioning and decision making ability making it easier to break down a prisoners will to guard any information their interrogators want. We can all recognise the emotional and psychological effects of lack of sleep but what about the physical effects? Regular poor sleep can increase the likelihood of serious health problems such as diabetes and heart disease as well as obesity. As a lot of people are now returning to work and more places are being opened up again stress and anxiety levels might be on the rise as well. It is recognised this can have an adverse effect on our sleep. So what might be helpful?

How much sleep do we need?

For years we have been told most people need eight hours sleep per night to be able to function well. Actually some people will need more than that and some less. What is more important is knowing your own needs. If you feel tired most of the day and long for a nap from waking in the morning chances are you are getting poor sleep. Many factors can affect the amount and quality of the sleep we have each night from physical difficulties such as sleep apnoea to stress and depression. Whatever is affecting your sleep there are things that are recognised as being helpful in increasing the likelihood of having better sleep.

What helps sleep?

Anyone who has had a small child will know establishing a pattern is useful to manage meltdown. The same can be helpful to us as adults as well. Going to bed and getting up at the same time every day can be a good way of resetting the mind and body to accept sleep. This is not always easy but if it is possible trying to keep to a regular bed time and pattern can help prepare the body for sleep. We are essentially creatures of habit so developing habits that help us to signal to mind and body that it is bedtime can be very helpful. There are many places you can find a list of things recommended to help with sleep difficulties but the most useful thing will be knowing your own triggers and aids. What is it that helps you feel relaxed? How did you wind down and relax before bed the last tIme you slept well? Think back to last time you had real difficulty sleeping, what was keeping you from sleep? What might help with that?

Is it more exercise during the day that helps you? If so what can you change with where you are now to increase the exercise you are getting?

Many people find using a meditation practice to train the brain can help. It certainly can help to train our brains to recognise our signs that tell us when we need to sleep. Having a calmer, clearer mind can certainly help to allow a better view of any of our signs, hunger, sleep, stress etc. One thing we need to remember is it takes persistent practice and patience for this habit to become second nature.

There are a few things we might be able to put into place which have been shown to help in the short term. Making sure the bedroom is not too hot, is dark and quiet. Reducing stimulation before bed, turn off the TV, put that tablet or smart phone down and read a book or listen to an audio book/music. Reducing or even stopping caffeine intake in the evening.

How will you know what has worked for you?

What about keeping a journal, noting down what you did in the evening and what time you went to bed. What else might be helpful for you to know? Make it yours because what works for you will be unlikely to work for you friend.

Have a go and see what works for you.

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