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Is Good Sleep Really that Important?

IS GOOD SLEEP REALLY THAT IMPORTANT?

 

We have all hit the snooze button of the alarm a few times some mornings.  We crave that little bit of extra sleep and yet, sometimes sleep is considered a luxury commodity.  Life is so hectic and overscheduled, that we forget how important sleep really is.  It is vital to our overall health, safety, and wellbeing.  We forget that we need to recharge our brain and bodies to be able to function at our optimal level.

 

There are a few constants when I listen to my clients and not being able to get good sleep is one of the most common complaints.  It varies from not being able to fall asleep, waking up a few times during the night and still feel tired after waking up.  We all heard it at some point in our lives where somebody would say “you only need a good night sleep”, “you won’t be able to function without sleep” or even “just get out of bed and pull yourself together”.  It is important to note that it is not only the sleep quantity that matters, but sleep quality is just as important.  Sleep disturbances are often, but not exclusively, the first sign of distress.  A lack of sleep can affect our relationships, moods, energy, and our ability to stay awake during the day to perform our work and daily tasks.  It could even be life-threatening if you must operate heavy machinery or perform certain everyday functions while sleep deprived.

 

It is quite interesting to note that there are more than 70 different types of sleep disorders.  From insomnia (difficulty falling or staying asleep), obstructive sleep-apnea (disordered breathing that causes multiple awakenings), narcolepsy (extreme sleepiness or falling asleep suddenly during the day) to various movement syndromes (unpleasant sensations that prompt night fidgeting).  I would strongly advise you to reach out to your medical physician to help you with a diagnosis and guidance should it be necessary.  They might even want to send you for a sleep study to get a look at your sleep patterns, which is a particularly good first step.  Treating the sleep disorder may help alleviate symptoms of mental health problems.

 

Although the right amount of sleep is somewhat individual, where seven hours will feel great to some and maybe a bit longer will be ideal for others, recent research indicates that a range between seven to nine hours is normal and healthy for most adults.  We might want to sleep in over weekends and that is not a big deal, but it can throw your rhythm off.  It is when you sleep for more than nine hours and do not feel rested that you might need to take a closer look.

 

Before I get to the good bit where I give you a few tools on how you can improve your sleeping habits, let me first start with the benefits of good sleep and what a lack of sleep can do to us.  I will even throw in another bit of information about what the risks are of too much sleep.

 

Sleep deprivation leads to our focus, attention, and vigilance drifting.  Basically, sleep deprivation causes a slippery slope downwards.  It makes it difficult to receive information at the optimal level.  We are less likely to perform well because our muscles are not rested, our neurotransmitters are not firing optimally, and our stress hormones are negatively affected which cause havoc in the brain and on our emotional regulation.  Have you noticed that you are more irritable and exhausted when you do not get those very important hours of sleep in?  Sleep deprivation affects our relationships as well as our own mental health.

 

So, what are the risks to oversleeping then (I am referring to the nine hours + time-period)?  According to research, oversleeping can be linked to increased weight gain, higher heart disease risk, increased pain, and even impaired fertility.  When you do oversleep it is not always about needing more sleep.  Often it can be an indicator to other mental, emotional (depression, anxiety, stress), or physical deficits and it is worth finding help on all these matters.

 

There are so many benefits to a good night sleep.  It helps for optimal learning and memory function.  It even helps with tasks that require motor coordination and performance.  Quality sleep also assist in emotional and mental wellness, effectiveness, and development.

 

Now to get to the changes that you can implement to your lifestyle, which can help you get some of that “quality sleep” that everybody is talking about.  To adopt healthy sleep behaviours and routines can help you tremendously in looking after yourself physically, emotionally, and mentally:

 

  • Create a relaxing sleep environment by turning your bedroom into a sleep-inducing environment. I love calling the bedroom your sanctuary.  It is that special peaceful space where you are surrounded by calmness and tranquillity.  At night, keep your bedroom cool, dark, and as quiet as possible.  Heavy curtains will help block out light and a good mattress and pillow is also highly recommended.  Use your bedroom only for sleeping and intimacy.  If you start treating your bedroom as your office, then you will start associating your bedroom with work and therefore will not be able to get the quality and quantity of sleep that you require.  Avoid associating your bedroom with frustration and worry.

 

  • Unplug an hour before bed. I know that this is a difficult one but give it a try.  We love scrolling through emails, Facebook, and other social media platforms before we put the light off, but those electronic screens affect a hormone that regulates your body’s internal clock.  You might also see things on screen that upsets you or kicks those thought processes into full gear.  If you are afraid that you might miss an important life-threatening call from a loved-one, place your phone upside-down on your dresser (away from your bed) before you snuggle up for sleep.

 

  • Do not discuss stressful or anxiety-inducing situations right before bedtime. You might have noticed that when you discuss any stressful topics, your heartrate increases, your energy level might spike and even your body temperature might increase.  This is not what you want just before bedtime.  Try to do these things long before you go to bed.  Remember, what we are trying to achieve here is to make sure that you are in a relaxed and calm state when you get into bed.

 

  • Set a sleep schedule by keeping your internal clock set. What you want to achieve here is to set your “internal clock” to times when your body can expect to fall asleep night after night and wake up at the same time every morning.  It will help when you go to bed at the same time every evening.  It will also help when you get up at the same time every day, yes, even over weekends.  Even when you have not slept well the previous night, get up at your scheduled time.  By doing this, you heighten your “sleep drive” that can help you sleep better the following night.  Another important note: try not to go to bed to early, this can cause you to feel anxious when you lie awake in bed.

 

  • Go to sleep when you are truly tired. Relax your mind.  It is so frustrating to lie in bed, trying to force yourself to fall asleep.  You will know when your body tells you that it is ready to go to bed.  Struggling to fall asleep can cause frustration and irritability.  If you are not asleep within 20 minutes of getting into bed, get up, do something that makes you relax (like listening to music or reading a book).  Keep the lights dim and when your eyelids are drooping and letting you know that you are ready to sleep again, return to bed.  If you do feel tired at night, do not ignore this, but try to stick to your schedule and routine.

 

  • Nap early or not at all, basically, you need to limit nap time. Naps during the day can interfere with night-time sleep.  Try to keep your naps short and before 16:00.  Prolonged naps, especially late-day naps decrease “sleep drive”.

 

  • Maintain a regular exercise routine. Research has shown that exercise increases total sleep time and sleep quality.  It is important that I mention that you should avoid exercises close to bedtime and that you should do this a few hours before bedtime.

 

  • Avoid late night meals and alcohol consumption. You might even consider lightening up your evening meals.  Try to prevent having a heavy meal just before bedtime but try not to go to bed hungry.  Finish dinner a few hours before bedtime and avoid foods that might cause indigestion, like spicy, fatty, or fried foods.

 

  • Curb nicotine, alcohol, caffeine use, and avoid drugs. Nicotine, caffeine, and drugs makes it harder to fall asleep and stay asleep.  There is a general misconception that nicotine makes you relaxed, but it is, in fact, a stimulant that accelerates your heart rate, which in turn could keep you awake for longer.  Alcohol on the other hand, slows down the nervous system.  It could help you to doze off, but it could disturb the rhythm of sleep and then you will not feel refreshed in the morning.  Certain medications have side effects that is associated with insomnia, even some herbal medication can cause insomnia.  Make sure that you read the pamphlets that comes with your medication.  Speak to your medical physician or pharmacist should you feel unsure of what the negative effects could be.

 

  • Balance your fluid intake. Try to drink enough fluids before you go to bed to prevent you from waking up thirsty.  At the same time, avoid drinking too much as this can send you on a trip to the bathroom and break your sleep pattern.

 

  • Schedule down time before bed and establish a soothing pre-sleep routine. Imagine taking a nice warm bath before getting into bed.  Your body will feel warm, relaxed, and calm and will help you get into that sleepy state of mind.  Meditation, a few stretches, reading a book, and breathing exercises also help.  Even just brushing your teeth could form an easy part of your night-time routine.

 

  • Do not be a night-time clock-watcher. How easy is it to roll-over in bed and get a glimpse of the alarm-clock?  It is shouting at you how much time you still have left to sleep.  Watching the clock can cause anxiety and can make it harder for you to fall asleep again.  Your mind starts working out the hours that you have left to sleep and before you know it, you are lying in bed thinking about the following days routine and everything that you still have to do.  Try turning the clock away so that it faces the wall.

 

  • Use light to your advantage. Let the sun into your room first thing in the morning and get out of the office during the day for a bit of sunlight.  It is wonderful what the natural remedies of a few minutes of sunshine can do to a person’s mental and physical health.

 

  • Take notes and do not worry about stuff. I know that this is easier said than done.  If you cannot control your thoughts, write it down.  You might want to keep a little notepad and a pen in your bedside-drawer.  If you are scared that you are going to forget something, write it down and then you know that you can refer back to the notes the next morning and do not have to keep worrying about it through the night.

 

To bring you an answer to the topic question, the answer is YES, YES and more YES.  Good quality sleep is extremely important.

 

As with most mental health techniques, this is not a once off trick that will fix everything in a blink of an eye.  We must be conscious of our own thoughts, our own emotions, our own actions, and behaviour.  We must make a conscious effort to work on ourselves every day and, to make our own way of living healthy for ourselves and others.  Sometimes it is the small things that we do not give much attention to that could have the most devastating consequences, like not getting your good dose of quality sleep in.  It is important to look after ourselves mentally, emotionally and physically and try our best not to put one of these important parts of our wellbeing in jeopardy.

 

If you do find that you are not sleeping well or becoming more depressed/anxious/irritable even though you are trying hard to overcome your challenges, reach out to me or a therapist close to you to help you through this and any other challenges that you might have to face in the future.  Remember, you are not alone and there is a hand of support reaching out to you.

 

As always, I like to end my blog with a quote or two and the following really enforces what I am trying to say in this blog.  The first one is an Irish Proverb saying “A good laugh and a long sleep are the two best cures for anything.” and this one from Ariana Huffington who said “By helping us keep the world in perspective, sleep gives us a chance to refocus on the essence of who we are.  And in that place of connection, it is easier for the fears and concerns of the world to drop away.”.  As a little bonus, here is an extra quote from Suzanne Somers who said, “Sleep has been provided by nature to do the body’s healing work, and it takes seven or eight hours for this process to happen.  Commit to getting at least seven to eight hours of good quality sleep every night to keep your body and hormones in balance.”.

 

As a reminder, GEM Mental Health Therapy and Coaching has decided to offer Skype Sessions, Zoom Sessions, WhatsApp Calls and WhatsApp Video Chats in order to reach as many people as possible.  I have also decided to incorporate Counselling via Email, which seems a bit unorthodox, but some clients do not have the freedom and privacy to discuss heart matters in the enclosed environment that they find themselves in at this time.  Please do not hesitate to reach out so that we can work together on your mental health as we face these challenging times.

 

Thank you very much for reading my blog.  I truly hope that it helped somebody, somewhere.  Please send any feedback or comments to info@gemtherapy.co.za and remember to have a look out for a new blog every week.