It’s 4 am, it’s pitch black, the house is silent, you’ve counted your 500th fluffy ruddy sheep, drunk your umpteenth cup of warm milk and despite all of this, YOU JUST CAN’T FALL ASLEEP. Not only that, but now, you also need the loo. Great.
A familiar scenario for many we’re sure, but when does the odd night’s bad sleep turn into a harmful habit that affects your overall health?
Recent stats show that 15% of the world’s population suffer from insomnia and other sleep disorders. The figures for the UK make for particularly alarming reading with 30% of Brits affected, 75% of which are women aged between 30 and 50. Why, though, is this demographic particularly vulnerable? It hardly seems fair what with our plates already spilling over with childbirth, our “monthlies” and perhaps menopausal woes too for those on the cusp of 50. We’re feeling exhausted just by the thought of it.
However, it’s these very hormone-fluctuating events which are largely responsible for making switching off at night so darn difficult. It seems that we just can’t catch a break. Literally.
GTG attended the launch of Estee Lauder’s new Advanced Night Repair Synchronized Recovery Complex II , where they unveiled the results of a study conducted with University Hospitals Case Medical Center showing for the first time that lack of sleep accelerates the signs of skin ageing. Sleep specialist Dr Guy Meadows from The Sleep School was on hand to provide some much-needed slumber sense to help us switch off, sleep tight and increase our chances of achieving a good night’s beauty sleep. Here’s what we learnt…
DISPELLING SLEEP MYTHS
Myth number 1: “An hour before midnight is worth two hours after”
False. Whatever time you fall asleep, it is the first three hours that are the most vital. This is the case whether your ETS (estimated time of slumber) is 11 pm or 1 am.
Myth number 2: “Everybody should have eight hours’ sleep”
Definitely false. There is no one size fits all. On average people require around seven to eight hours’ sleep, however this needn't always be the case and it could actually range from four to ten hours in some cases. A good gauge is to see how much energy you have during the day and to adjust your sleep times accordingly depending on what’s best for you.
Myth number 3: “Napping is bad”
False again! Naps are a natural process and are in fact great for giving you a boost when energy levels are flagging. The key is timing and duration. Aim for 20 to 30 minutes bursts, just don’t exceed 40 minutes as then you’re more likely to fall into a deep sleep (i.e. the REM stage) which will affect the quality of your sleep later on and cause you to suffer from much-dreaded “brain fog” when you eventually arise.
DR MEADOWS’ TOP TIPS FOR ACHIEVING A GOOD NIGHT’S SLEEP
Tip 1: Let go of the props
Rather than reaching for a book, your phone or even pills to help remedy a night’s restless slumber, Dr Meadows and The Sleep School say to think again. “Remember that sleep is a natural physiological process that can’t be controlled and having a reliance on unnatural night-time rituals or props (e.g. warm baths and milk etc.) can fuel sleep anxiety.”
Instead, he recommends switching off all electrical appliances 30-45 minutes before bed and then, to put it simply, potter around. “Brush your teeth, pack your bag for the next day and get ready for bed – get into a routine to put you in the right frame of mind for sleep. The more you repeat this routine, the more you’ll make a positive association between doing those things and going to bed.”
Tip 2: Be mindful
Avoid allowing intrusive thoughts about the past or the future to enter your brain. Mindfulness is all about being in the present. If past experiences have shown us anything, this is a feat that’s easier said than done - how do we even begin going about this? Dr Meadows to the rescue again - he recommends the following mindfulness exercise that can be done both in and out of bed:
- Close your eyes and begin with focusing on your clothes and how they feel against your skin
- Notice the feel of the bed/chair underneath you
- Now draw your attention onto your breathing and each inhalation and exhalation
- If you notice any thoughts entering your mind, welcome them, notice them and acknowledge them and then just let them go and re-focus your attention back onto your breathing. Do this each time something enters your mind
Tip 3: Save energy
If when awake at night you feel the need to get out of bed, Dr Meadows advises resisting the urge to do so: “Aim to lie there in a calm and relaxed frame of mind. Be in bed with the discomfort of your thoughts and emotions and seek solace in being still.”
Tip 4: Welcome thoughts and emotions
According to Dr Meadows, “The more your fight your thoughts, the more the thoughts will fight back”. So change your relationship with them by welcoming them instead, letting them go and focusing on you breathing (see Tip 2 above) which will help combat night-time nerves.
Tip 5: Timing and drive
Aim to go to sleep and wake up at the roughly the same time everyday. Also try to keep your bedroom as cool, dark and clean as possible. Think of it as keeping your sleep homeostat in check.
As with any lifestyle change, consistency is key. After a week of trying it out, this GTG writer’s already noticed a marked difference not only in the quality of her sleep and overall energy levels, but also in her general everyday stress management. Being mindful and present seems to be a particularly powerful tool.
It takes perseverance though and a lot of patience, but with sleep having such a vital role in promoting a healthy heart, reducing the risks of developing obesity, diabetes and cancer later on, boosting overall immunity, aiding mental health and regulating hormone levels too, it seems that it’s one commitment worth seeing through.
Fun Sleep Facts: We sleep in 1 ½ to 2 ½ REM cycles due to our body’s survival instinct to stay alert and avoid danger. It’s what our early ancestors did to avoid getting eaten. Also during the REM stages of sleep, we are effectively paralysed so that we don’t act out our dreams. Thank goodness for that...