Friday, 16 March 2018

Wellbeing Project 8 - Sleep yourself to good health

Not enough sleep will leave you sleepwalking through life.

For years I went without sleep except at the weekends, working late into the night or into the small hours or even working until it was time to get up and therefore going without any sleep at all. My priority was getting my tasks done for the next day. 

Just over a year ago I started researching how to help Year 11s manage stress and I was shocked at just how important sleep was to managing our wellbeing. Not only is lack of sleep associated with heart disease, depression, Type 2 diabetes and IBS, none of which I had thankfully and I definitely don’t want, but it is also associated with stress, weight gain and obesity (I was overweight) and dementia (my number 1 feared illness over and above cancer) and even higher death rates, especially in women! 

I know from studying NLP that the mind makes memories when we sleep so it shouldn’t have surprised me at the link to dementia. According to a study published at Berkley, it is missing deep non-REM sleep that produces beta-amyloid proteins that are the catalyst for Alzheimers and they aggregate in higher concentrations with poor sleep, and worse, it’s cyclical as they in turn hamper sleep. 

A good night’s sleep is associated with better problem solving, memory recall, performance, productivity and concentration, all things that I prize. So how did I not notice the impact of lack of sleep. According to the National Sleep Foundation, 90% of people report being good at tasks when they sleep well as opposed to 46% when they don’t sleep well. Research has shown that lack of sleep increases mistakes. In fact it’s like being drunk: just 17 hours of deprivation is the equivalent of 0.05% alcohol in our blood stream. Think of the effect on driving! The US estimates 100,000 crashes a year are due to sleep deprivation yet would we dare call into work and say I can’t come in today I’m too tired to drive there?

And then I discovered the link with stress. Stress produces cortisol, cortisol interrupts sleep, and lack of sleep produces cortisol. A vicious cycle. In addition, cortisol causes weight gain, impaired brain function and it impairs the immune system. 

Now I could see just how important sleep is, and that I should prioritise it to perform at my best and be healthy, how much sleep do I actually need? From my research, the amount of sleep we need varies between individuals and can be genetically affected. However as a general rule, it appears adults need 7-9 hours, teenagers 8-10 hours and school aged children 9-11 hours. 

Time to change my sleep habits

I had to seriously realign my life to achieve this and I have used NLP to help me change my mindset and my habits. Through coaching, I have worked out that I am task driven and hence I would always be thinking, ‘I’ll just do this,’ ‘I’ll just do that’ and that’s why before I know it, it’s silly o’clock. Using Swish, I changed that thought pattern to, ‘No, it’s time to stop now’ which has helped me to go to bed earlier. I also used my relaxation anchor to induce a relaxed state once I was in bed to get to sleep and I changed my work patterns to reduce my stress levels.

Top tips that help sleep

  1. Getting rid of blue light a good hour before you sleep - no more phone or computer. Blue light inhibits the production of melatonin the chemical that tells our brain that it’s time to sleep. I went back to that old habit of reading before I go to sleep but I can’t stay awake long enough.
  2. Herbal teas - I use chamomile when I put aside the phone. Valerian root, lavender, lemon balm, passion flower, magnolia bark are also believed to help and there is always Sleepytime. Lavender oil on your pillow is also supposed to help.
  3. A bedtime snack - a handful of almonds, a kiwi fruit washed down with cherry juice. Almonds have melatonin that promotes sleep and improves sleep quality, a kiwi fruit, has serotonin to regulate sleep as well as antioxidants, and cherry juice has yet more more melatonin and antioxidants.
  4. A warm bath - to raise your temperature a degree or two and then the cool down relaxes you and promotes deeper sleep. Some people recommend soaking in Epsom salts as the magnesium apparently soaks into your skin and helps sleep. 
  5. Yoga moves or stretches - not full on exercise as that wakes you up, but gentle stretches with a focus on breathing. Although regular exercise is excellent for aiding sleep when done earlier in the day.
  6. A to-do list - it not only gets it out of my head but I can pick it up in the morning to start my day well.
  7. Gratitude - rewires the brain to focus on the positives by remembering good bits of the day, which in turn relaxes us.

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