The worst thing in the world is to try to sleep and not to.”
-F. Scott Fitzgerald
Ah, sleep; the ‘Chief nourisher in life’s feast’ as Will Shakespeare so eloquently put it. When you’re getting plenty, it’s so easy to take it for granted, but when it leaves you it can become, literally overnight, a huge, all-consuming problem and if you’re anything like me, something of an obsession.
The UK’s Sleep Survey in 2013 revealed that a third of Brits sleep for only 5-6 hours per night, with us women significantly more likely to suffer from a poor night’s sleep than men, especially as we get older.
However, it is quite likely that most of us, at one time or another in our lives will suffer from a period of disturbed sleep. So why is this?
Chances are, you already know the answer; stress, anxiety, lack of a proper bedtime routine, a partner who snores (sidenote – men are twice as likely to snore as women), health problems, or in my case, becoming a mum – who knew this would be the end of sleep as I knew it? (Anyone who was already a mum, of course!).
And oh man, not getting enough sleep really sucks. Until I had children I was pretty great at sleeping; I’d have rated it as one of my top five talents (along with procrastinating, having double jointed elbows and being able to consume my entire body weight in chocolate in one sitting without being sick). I was so good at sleeping I used to be able to pull 10 hours straight, 7 nights a week and still take a lie in on the weekends. And then I fell pregnant and everything started to change; sleeping became more awkward and uncomfortable and way less pleasurable. And then the baby came along and all hopes of ever sleeping again seemed to vanish like smoke.
E (my first gremlin) was a terrible sleeper for the first year of his life and then, almost overnight, it all seemed to click and he suddenly started sleeping through the night, which was, of course, fantastic news. Unfortunately, however, I was not so lucky. By that point, I had become such a light sleeper that any noise at all made me jolt wide awake. I had also become so tense and highly strung that I couldn’t get to sleep and even when I eventually did I would wake multiple times in the night, for apparently no reason at all. According to the Sleep Survey, this has a name, ‘Postnatal Insomnia’ and can last months or even years after having children.
Thankfully in my case, once I fell pregnant with my second child, my sleep patterns seemed to reset and I was able to sleep again and although J has also been a terrible sleeper and it took him an extra year to start sleeping, I was massively less stressed which meant I could at least sleep between night calls.
I am well aware that my few years of sleep deprivation completely pale in comparison to some people who can suffer from sleep problems their entire lives. In fact, the Sleep Survey uncovered that a quarter of people who suffer from insomnia have suffered for 11 years or more. But I do understand that sleep deprivation of any kind really hurts.
So what are the implications of not getting enough sleep? Turns out, they’re pretty bad… Short term, we probably all know that lack of sleep impedes concentration, and motivation, it makes us more irritable and anxious and give us a headache and also apparently, can affect our bodily control which is why when we’re tired we can experience ‘an otherwise inexplicable desire to eat.’
More significantly though long term it seems very clear that prolonged sleep deprivation can have some very serious health implications, it has been linked to increased risk of diabetes, heart disease, strokes, cancer, depression and anxiety and also affects the immune system. (Argh!!) According to a recent Dutch study in the European Journal of Preventative Cardiology, good quality sleep could reduce 57 percent of heart-related deaths each year.
The good news is that if you are struggling to get to sleep (or stay asleep), there are lots of things you can do to help (obviously giving the kids away is probably not a viable option). Over the next couple of blog posts, we will look at food and drink that can help promote great sleep and how to create the perfect sleep environment and bedtime routine. But for the time being, here are ten suggestions to get you started.
- Set a regular bedtime routine. This means giving yourself enough time to unwind away from digital screens before bed and getting to bed at a regular time.
- Eat breakfast. According to Dr. Ramlakhan, the author of Tired But Wired, eating breakfast is really important, “Believe it or not, eating breakfast can help you sleep. It’s as simple as this, if you don’t eat breakfast, your body believes it is living in famine and produces stress hormones that are not conducive to restful sleep.’
- Get regular exercise (but not right before bed). The Sleep Survey revealed that exercising 5-6 times are week is probably the optimal amount for getting good sleep (i.e. some decent level of exercise pretty much every day).
- Create the perfect sleep environment (we’ll discuss some ideas on how to do this on our next blog).
- Eat well. A good, healthy diet with enough protein, vitamins, and minerals is essential whilst avoiding too much sugar.
- Minimise your intake of caffeine and alcohol.
- Give yourself a relaxing hand or face massage (see our blog post on ‘How to Do a Facial Massage’ for further advice).
- Keep your bedroom tidy! Most of us find a clean, tidy environment much more restful so try and keep clutter away.
- Use aromatherapy to help calm and relax. Essential oils such as lavender and vetiver are well known to help calm and relax the body. Our Lavender, Vetiver and Ylang Ylang Pillow Spray is a really easy way to introduce the calming properties of essential oils into your bedtime routine.
- And if you really are struggling with your sleep and it’s starting to affect your everyday life, don’t struggle in silence; talk to your doctor or a sleep specialist.
Sleep well, my friends! 🙂