My poor, sleep deprived husband doesn’t begrudge the fact that when I get into bed I am generally asleep after about ten minutes and I sleep through, getting roughly seven hours eleven minutes sleep each night. I know I get this because I have a Fitbit Charge 2 and it tells me that’s what I get. It also tells me I get 47% light sleep, 19% deep sleep, 12% awake and 18% REM, so I’m pretty average and I am lucky.
It’s not always like this of course. I don’t have a problem getting off to sleep because I am normally tired by 10 o’clock but sometimes I can wake at that worst graveyard time of 2am and when that happens I get up, make myself a cup of tea, hang around, look at the slugs on the cats’ food bowl, stand outside and listen to the owls then return to my bed.
What is this Fitbit malarky? It’s a wrist band with a watch and gizmos that tell you your heartbeat, how many steps you’ve done, your sleep patterns and all sorts of fancy stuff. They are about £110 and I love mine. There are many producers of different models. I bought it because I wanted to get fit and was very interested in my sleep. I thought I should be getting eight hours but have now discovered that that’s just not me. Two late night teenage boys and a hubby who trips, accidentally puts the main light on and flushes the loo while loudly apologising in a ridiculous whisper that he’s woken me up puts paid to any chance of the luxury eight hours.
But what is it like when you can’t sleep? Maybe you have horrible insomnia, an illness, meds or not the right sleeping environment or perhaps you have so much on your mind during the day, preventing you from getting off to sleep or waking up once, twice or all through the night. I know a couple of people who live on about four hours sleep. I have often been envious of friends who tell me they go to bed at 12.30am and get up at 6.30am. They get to ‘do’ stuff and have so many more hours to chill. Know what? I’m not envious anymore because now I know just how important sleep is for a happy and longer life. It’s true. All this four hours and going to bed late is really bad for humans and will come back and bite you on the backside in later life.
So why does sleep matter?
Don’t bother asking a teenager. They manage because they are strong and young and when I was young I had no problem with staying up until 2am during the week and feeling fine the next day and that was with all the naughty stuff I was up to as well (that’s a blog for another day if you’re wondering).
Let’s get cracking on why sleep is so important and some stuff that I hope will help you to appreciate your sleep more. Why am I so much the expert? I’m not, however I am a student of the Human Givens College and soon (please oh Godly one) to qualify as a Human Givens Practitioner and they know one hell of a lot about sleep. I’m also a qualified Hypnotherapist. So here goes…
Humans thrive when they get between 7-9 hours sleep per night. Our ancestors would go to bed when it was dark and awake when it was light. Makes sense. In our fast moving, techno, political, rather scary lives most of us find it impossible to get this much. As we all have to work many hours and nowadays we’ll need to work until we’re about seventy-four our evenings are precious so no surprise we want to spend time with our families, partners and friends or just mooch about doing our stuff. Normally we get a mixture of slow wave sleep and dream sleep with a bit of turning and waking that we are not aware of. During slow wave sleep all sorts of wonderful scientific things happen to our bodies. I’m no scientist so to use a metaphor, think of slow wave as dealing with your hardware (bodies and brains) and REM or dream sleep our software (thoughts and emotions). Evidence based research shows us that in slow wave sleep (SWS) we go through periods of physical healing and recuperation. Hormones are secreted to help with muscle wear and tear, cells in the brain are refreshed with sugars and the immune system is boosted. In REM sleep our bodies become paralysed to make way for the huge amount of energy our brains need to dream. We are in the deepest of trance states and often don’t remember our dreams or if we do, they are the ones that occur in the hours before waking. REM lasts for up to about 25% of the night on average. REM or Rapid Eye Movement can be seen in humans by the fluttering behind the eyelids or in cats and dogs when their legs twitch as if running. Why do we dream and why do the dreams we do remember sometimes feel so real or bizarre?
Joe Griffin from the Human Givens Institute has researched why we dream for many years and his findings make a lot of sense. Joe’s research found that we dream at night to deactivate the emotional stuff we get worked up about during the day. So if, for instance, your boss had a go at you in the office for an unfair reason you might want to give them a right mouthful but of course you don’t if you want to keep your job. Sitting at the bus stop the most beautiful specimen of a human being walks past. Do you call out “Corr, you’re gorgeous!?” Unlikely, yet that emotion stays within you. On your way home someone pulls out in front of you making you slam your brakes on and missing your fender by inches. Do you jump out, run over to the person and scream at them? Not advisable. So all these emotions that you don’t act upon stay with you and at night you dream them out. You need to do this in order to flush out all the emotional arousals to start afresh the next day.
When you are stressed, worried, anxious, angry or upset you tend to think too hard. Ruminating is the buzz word of today. You go over and over in your mind the problems and upsets and at night spend even more time dreaming, often waking exhausted and lacking motivation, fuzzy headed and with memory problems. Tackling the route of your emotional issues will help you get better sleep. Talking to a ‘good’ listener who doesn’t jump in with unhelpful advice or finding a solution focused, ethical counsellor can get you back on track.
As you get much older you may find that your sleep is very sporadic and you tend to nap during the day. Many older people, or indeed anyone, can suffer with insomnia for years and have put up with it. Believing you are tough for doing this or thinking “that’s just the way I am” isn’t helpful and you don’t have to live like this. Maybe you have spent years taking sleeping pills. Why fill yourself with chemicals when there are alternatives? Think back to when your sleep problems first started. Was there an event in your life that triggered your poor sleep? If this is the case help is at at hand. A good therapist will know how to do ‘the rewind technique’ and they will be able to neutralise the memory of that first trigger which has left you pattern matching the event subconsciously all these years. It is a powerful tool and can change your sleeping behaviour quickly and for life. Just think how wonderful you would feel going to bed at night and getting that 7-9 hours uninterrupted sleep?
Not trying to teach granny how to suck eggs and I’m sure you know a lot of this already but here are a few tips to help you get a good night’s sleep. Before you say, “I’ve tried everything and nothing works” think about it. Have you
made the effort? Have you tried
? Give it a go for a couple of weeks and then see if you still believe your negative self-talk. If you really want to get better sleep there may need to be some adjustments to your routine. It’s up to you …
- Alcohol. Thought I’d start with this one because it really does affect your sleep. Nothing wrong (in my humble opinion) with a couple of drinks but if you drink way over your unit allowance you will probably go off to sleep OK but by the early hours your body will go into withdrawal which will either make you make up thirsty or wanting to go for a pee or will certainly affect your quality of sleep.
- Too much on your mind. Rather than trying to go off to sleep with your brain buzzing about what you have to do the next day try keeping a notebook by your bed and jot down your list of things you need to do then forget about it. Time for sleep.
- Caffeine. Get rid of it altogether or at least stop any caffeine intake after 4pm. Decaf is better and hot chocolate is great or chamomile, fruity hot drink or such like.
- Exercise. Well known for inducing good sleep however try to exercise early in the evening or during the day so you are not wound up like a spring.
- Your bed. Is this the same mattress you’ve had for ten years with a big dent in it and lumpy? Change your mattress or at least turn it every month or so.
- Your environment. TV, mobile phone, laptop or iPad. Get rid. Do you really need to know how many people have ‘liked’ your post on Facebook or check the news to discover the world is about to end because all the bees are dying and we’re running out of antibiotics? And probably not a great idea to watch ‘Fast and Furious’ or ‘The Conjuring’ before lights out.
- Pets. Yes I know it’s sooo cute to have Fido or Felix asleep in your room or on your bed but they will wake you up with their purring, jumping up or wandering around with their favourite toy or kill. Out they go.
- Darkness and quiet. Well, we live next to an airport with planes starting at 5am and finishing after 11pm so we’re stuffed. Black out blinds are brilliant, double glazing great and keeping your room quiet is a must. Can’t help with your snoring partner I’m afraid.
- Regular sleep times. This is a hard one for many but just try it for a couple of weeks if you can. Go to bed at the same time and wake up the same time every night and aim for the 7-9 hours of sleep. No sleeping at any other time. Apologies for you shift workers.
- Temperature. Keep the room at an even temperature, not too hot or too cold. Having cold feet can wake you up so wear socks if your room is too cool.
- Waking up in the night. If you wake up in the night and can’t get back to sleep after half an hour get up and do something really boring. I’m talking polishing the family silver (yeah like), washing the kitchen floor by hand or best ever, stand up reading the most boring or hard going book you can find (Moby Dick is good I’ve heard). Go back to bed and back to sleep. If you wake up again get up again and repeat the process. Repeat this process until you can sleep.
- Wind down before sleep. Here’s a lovely trick. When you are lying down and and it’s time for sleep and maybe you still feel a bit wired try some relaxing breathing and visualisation. It’s called 7/11 breathing (after the shop) but you can do whatever you are comfortable with, just make sure your out breath is longer than your in breath. Close your eyes and bring your awareness to your body, starting with your feet and focus on your different muscle groups, imagining them relaxing into the bed: your legs, your torso, arms, back, shoulders, neck and head. Breathe slowly through your nose, in and out. If you have a bit of a blocked nose, breathe out through your mouth. Breathe in for the count of 7 and out for the count of 11. If you run out of breath on the out breath just pause to 11 or your own number and then breathe in slowly. Do this for about 20 breaths. While you are are breathing like this think of a special place where you like to wander (somewhere in nature like a wood or beach is often good) and imagine yourself there just slowly walking about. Use all your senses to really believe you are there. When you have enjoyed your special place enough breathe normally and think of yourself having the most wonderful sleep.
I know this might all seem obvious, simplistic or impossible but you’ve got to start somewhere. I wish you all the very best in your endeavours to get a good night’s sleep. You deserve it and you need it.
Sweet dreams comrades…
P.S. To learn more about sleep and dreaming I recommend the book ‘Why We Dream’ by Joe Griffin and Ivan Tyrrell.