In the words of the Elizabethan dramatist and writer Thomas Dekker, ‘sleep is that golden chain that ties health and our bodies together’.
Leaping forward to modern times and we have become a faster paced and more stressed society, addicted to social media and a level of communication that commands a 24/7 availability.
The side-effects of this environment are that many of us find it more difficult to relax, diet has been jeopardized and we have even come up with the phrase ‘FOMO’, which is the fear of missing out.
But it means that even when we want some shut-eye, we struggle to doze off.
Poor sleep impacts mood and concentration, and the effects are linked to serious health issues. Healthspan’s Rob Hobson explains subtle things which could be hampering your rest
The sleep cycle
During sleep your heart rate drops, body temperature falls and complex changes occur in the brain.
The first stage of sleep is non-rapid eye movement, which occurs in three stages that become progressively deeper.
Stage one and two are light sleep from which we can easily be roused from.
The third stage is deeper and we are less likely to be roused from but may feel disorientated if woken.
Stage four is known as rapid eye movement sleep, which is the point that dreaming occurs. Each cycle lasts around 90 minutes and all four are needed to wake up feeling rested.
Sleep is controlled mostly by your circadian rhythm, which is your in-built body clock and a 24-hour cycle that regulates both biological and physiological processes.
It anticipates environmental changes allowing the body to adapt and is largely influenced by light.
When you are in sync you will naturally wake at the same time every day, which explains those weird moments when you wake just before the alarm goes off.
After being awake for around 15 hours the pressure to sleep becomes greater as tiredness set in and with the onset of darkness the circadian rhythm drops to the lowest levels to help maintain sleep.
There is evidence to show that it can be perfectly natural to sleep for around four hours then wake and fall asleep again for a few more hours putting question to the perception that you need eight hours uninterrupted sleep to wake up feeling refreshed.
Problems may occur of you wake after four hours and fail to fall back to sleep, which is the case for people suffering with insomnia.
Anxiety related to the inability to fall back to sleep can only further lead to sleep deprivation so rather than lie in bed staring at the ceiling it may be better to get up, make a warming drink and sit quietly in the dimmest of light, maybe reading or writing down ideas, stresses or problems to help clear the mind and get you ready to fall back to sleep.
How we became a society of non-sleepers
We are a society that typically does not get enough sleep.
The idea of rest and sleep is sometimes viewed as unimportant. Many burn the candles at both ends to appear capable, and carve out the time required to achieve their goals.
Admitting to feeling tired is sometimes viewed as a sign of weakness but in the long-term, strength and endurance come from the ability to switch off and allow yourself to recoup, which will ultimately help you to achieve both short and long-term goals, whilst retaining your good health.
Why you really need a good sleep – and should never over-do it
TRY A SLEEP DIARY
It may seem like quite a bit of effort given the many other things we have to get on with in our day-to-day lives.
But keeping track of your pattern of sleep and the factors that may be keeping you awake by using a sleep diary is a useful tool to identify the reasons and patterns of behaviour and lifestyle that could be getting in the way.
Once written down it is surprising how even the simplest and most obvious of reasons for a lack of sleep are easily overlooked.
Whilst asleep, your brain processes information, muscles and joints recovery from constant use during the day, production of growth hormone is increased and protein is replenished in all parts of the body.
Poor sleep impacts on mood, concentration and alertness and the effects of long-term sleep deprivation have been linked to several serious health conditions including heart disease, diabetes and stroke.
Research shows that a lack of sleep may also be a major risk factor for obesity alongside physical activity and overeating.
Research carried out by the university of Leeds showed that people who lack sleep or have poor quality sleep were more likely to have a higher body mass index (BMI) and an increased risk of becoming overweight or obese.
Not getting enough sleep is thought to create imbalances in the hormones that regulate appetite and how the body breaks down and utilizes nutrients for energy.
These hormones include leptin (appetite regulation), ghrelin (appetite stimulant) and insulin (blood sugar regulation).
The impact of these hormones on appetite and the fact that being overweight can result in low energy and lessen the motivation for physical activity may have the potential to lay the foundations for obesity.
Seven sleep hijacks that could be ruining your rest
There are clearly many reasons why people can’t get a good night’s sleep and for many of us we just carry on regardless, waking up complaining of being tired and failing to tackle the issue head on hoping it’s just a passing phase.
The reality is that we are just burying our head in the sand and as with any other health conditions, things are not likely to improve until you find a way to break the cycle.
Understanding the many things we do that unwittingly hijack a good night’s sleep is key to getting to the root of the problem and unlocking the path to a blissful, regenerative slumber. Instead of getting on with day to day life with a slightly ‘hungover’ feeling, addressing the issues head on is the best approach.
These are some of the main factors that may need to be addressed. You can use these topics to create your own personal sleep ritual, which can be a useful way to re-set your body clock and promote sleep.
1. Worry and stress
We have all been kept awake by the many factors that cause worry and stress in our lives.
Money problems, relationship issues and work stresses can have you sitting up all night as your brain whizzes in a cycle though different situations and scenarios to come up with solutions.
A useful habit to get into is to download your thoughts at the end of the day.
Keep a pen and paper next to your bed and before you go to sleep, write down your thought and worries, create a to-do list for the following day or jot down solutions and ideas that relate to work.
If you get up during night, rather than twiddling your thumbs spinning ideas around your head then get up, make a warming drink and sit quietly in dim light and jot down your thoughts to get them out of your head.
For some people that can’t sleep, even the slightest worries can have a major impact such as whether you have locked all the windows and doors or whether you have turned off the oven or switched off the hob.
In this case, developing a personal sleep ritual can help.
Work through the same pattern of checking before you go to bed. Lock the front door, check the windows are locked and that the cooker is switched off. It doesn’t take much for the smallest of worries to escalate in your mind when you’re finding it difficult to nod off.
2. Diet and eating patterns
In the words of Virginia Woolf, ‘one cannot think well, love well, sleep well, if one has not dined well’.
Wise words and trying to sleep on an empty stomach is not going to promote a good night’s sleep but dining out on the wrong foods at the wrong time has an impact too.
What and when you eat can have a major impact on your ability to sleep. Eating too late or indulging in a rich or spicy meal can keep you awake.
These foods take a long while to digest and the after effects of indigestion and heartburn are not going to set you up well for a good quality sleep.