Sleep deprivation – the results killer
We need to remember that sleep deprivation was a form of torture in war time. It is true we can not survive without it and we seem to be a nation of people who are suffering a range of sleep disorders. From those who can’t get to sleep, to those who wake early or regularly, from the snorer to the deadly sleep apnea sufferer it seems to be a common issue for most of my personal training and health coaching client base. Sleep deprivation has affected me personally too. For me I think I started having sleep issues with the birth of children – it seems to come hand in hand with having a new baby that someone is not going to get enough sleep and often that little bundle of joy can take out the happiness and coping mechanism of the most robust and stable family unit.
For most people it is no single thing, but rather a combination of habits and behaviours, possibly some hormones, combined with a very busy lifestyle. So where to next? If you’ve got ongoing sleep deprivation issues, whether this is a diagnosed medical condition or you just know you aren’t getting enough sleep making a plan to get back on track is useful.
Here’s my top 5 tips to eliminating sleep deprivation:
- make a diary about your daily habits – see if you can find some commonality between poor or good nights sleep such as caffeine / stimulant use, comfort level in bed – are you waking hot / cold / hungry, waking to go to the toilet, the time you ate your last meal – was it a big or small meal, did you have dessert right on bed time, did you watch TV or look at screens, were your exercising or sedentary. Try and see if there is a pattern. For me once I woke I had hot flushes but I realised the hot flushes weren’t waking me – I was waking up cold and then staying awake with hot flushes! Look for patterns and then make some changes.
- stimulant overload – often when we are tired we reach for caffeine to recharge energy levels and alcohol to relax us in the evenings. Reduce caffeine – aim to have nothing after midday, and alcohol that may be making your feel relaxed may in fact be revving up liver and digestive processes – so again – reduce / eliminate
- blue light awareness – our brains are wired to be awake during the day and sleep during the dark and there is blue light in sunlight that assists us with being awake and conversely a sleep hormone called melatonin that elevates as the sunlight reduces. However un-natural light and light emitted from screens, tv’s and smart devices are rich in blue light which tricks the brain into thinking it’s day, so to hold off on melatonin production. So turning off blue light emitting devices and lights is going to help your body develop more melatonin. If you go to bed without enough melatonin you will wake early. So walk away from your devices atleast 2 hours prior to bed time. You can purchase blue light blocking glasses – shameless plug – I sell genuine blue blocking glasses – they are just another tool in my tool box that ensures I get a good nights sleep.
- still on the blue light thing – if you can add some gentle and relaxing activity into dusk – things like walking a dog or caring for a pet, gardening, a candle lit bath, an evening stroll where you are exposed to increasingly dim light this will improve your chances of making enough melatonin to sleep through the night
- busy mind syndrome – I am not sure if this is a real syndrome but I often hear my clients talking about waking up with a mind full of thoughts. There are a number of strategies for this such as completing a gratitude diary to reflect on just prior to sleep, reading a book, writing your ‘to do’ list prior to going to bed are all examples – but I have to say most of the people I am working with are just a tad too busy to switch off. Imagine a life when you are not that busy . . . .
Now return back to point number 1 – making that diary – throughout all these ways of improving our ‘sleep hygiene’ document ways that you tweak your behaviour and the quality of sleep you have. Hopefully something will improve your lot. When my sleep issues were at their worst I had zero screen time after 6pm, all food eaten by 6pm, nothing with electricity in our bedroom (no lights, clocks or electric blanket), nothing but dim light once natural light faded for 6 weeks – and I still ended up on sleep medication for 12 months. I hated that but slowly I weaned off the sleep drugs and I haven’t had any sleep meds for over 4 years. Somehow I got terribly out of balance. These days I sleep quite well but I must adhere to good sleep hygiene habits or I’m awake having a 4am Board meeting with myself . . . . On a final note be really aware of any negative self talk or absolute talk you engage in around sleep depriavtion such as “I just can’t sleep”, “nothing seems to help”, “I’ve tried it all”. One of the biggest changes in my sleep issues was embracing rather than being frustrated that I was awake. I changed my mindset to accepting that I was awake and that I might read my book with very dim light and that I was lucky to be having this quiet, uninterrupted time to enjoy my book. Mindset can really help when dealing with sleep deprivation. Good luck!