It’s a question asked very often and the answer is a choice. A choice between health and vitality or sickness and tiredness.
As the line between work and leisure become more and more blurry, sleep loss ensues and as a result we have a large percentage of tired population.
Sleep loss is due to myriad of reasons. Interestingly a lot of these factors are within our control and we should rein in the controllable factors because sleep promotes good health, learning, memory, immunity, focus and task effectiveness.
Stress and sleep
Stress often leads to a "flight or fight response" or in other words a hyperarousal state where stress hormones are released into our body.
When night falls, as we lay in bed to fall asleep, our hyper-aroused mind and stress hormone levels will prevent us from falling asleep and the sleep loss will further diminish our ability to cope with stress the following day.
On the other hand, if we sleep and enjoy lots of deep REM sleep (a stage of sleep where dreams are seen), following a day with unpleasant emotional experience or stress, we would be armed with capabilities to deal with our stress in a more rational manner.
It is needless to say REM sleep has the lowest stress hormone levels and our stressful experience will be processed in a neurochemically safe environment.
How to beat it? Understand that with stress there are 2 factors
The 1) problem itself and 2) your emotional reaction to it and it is the emotional reaction that leads to hyperarousal. In such situations, interestingly, our thoughts and anxiety are often focused on the past or future but not on the present.
It is important to cultivate mindfulness to become grounded in the present moment. Once you can do that, you will be able to see the problem with clarity, free of emotional reaction, and sometimes you may realise that it is feasible to work with the problem to resolve it.
Other times, it might be possible to accept the anxious thoughts and just let them pass. Observe your thoughts passing, like standing on a riverside and watching the river flow, instead of wrestling with your thoughts like swimming upstream. Assessing whether the anxiety is rational is also another way of controlling your mind. Afterall, a relaxed mind is paramount for a good night sleep.
Sleep hygiene tips
Once the sun sets and the darkness falls, make sure it is internally dark too. Achieve this by turning off your smart devices 2 hours before your bed time. Dim your house lights and let the melatonin (sleepiness hormone) help you sleep well.
Another key to a good night sleep is consistency with your bedtime and rise time and this will leave you with enough wake hours to build up your sleep drive or your propensity to sleep.
If you are relying on caffeine, remember you may not be sleeping well. Caffeine can stay in our body for approx. 9 hours and can disrupt your sleep. Have your last cup of coffee, tea or chocolate at lunchtime.
It is also important to have a dark, quiet and cool bedroom.
The list can go on but remember you cannot put yourself to sleep because it is a physiological process, but always do the right thing by adhering to good sleep hygiene habits.
- Written by Motty Varghese, www.sleeptherapy.ie