It’s 3AM, you are lying in bed in the dark and are wide awake. How do you know what time it is? Well, you just checked your bedside table clock or your phone. Now, the only thing that matters to you is: ‘I MUST sleep’. The more you think about your lost sleep, the less sleepy you’ll get, because obsessing over it winds you up so much that your intention of slowing down and letting yourself go seems to be lost. And it might as well be. But why is sleep so important and what can you do to address your sleep problems?
Why is sleep so important?
Sleep is most probably the most vital activity of our day. That’s right, without sleep we cannot function to our full potential and therefore our day-time performance gets negatively affected. But why? Sleep has a restorative effect for our body and minds. It is during night time, when all is dark and nature quiets down, that we are meant to slow down and recharge our batteries. Our muscles relax to a point where they reach immobility and this will enable them to restore and repair themselves. Our minds also operate a sort of defragmenting, which allows us to consolidate our learning and memories so that we can incorporate new information the following day, and add to the pre-existing knowledge.
So, no wonder we feel achy, confused, anxious and/or depressed after a bad night’s sleep. The lack of sleep, or disturbed sleep, is often referred to as ‘insomnia’
So… what’s insomnia?
Insomnia can be seen as an umbrella term meaning that you don’t get enough and regular sleep. This can be either perceived by you during the day or it can go unnoticed. Even if it goes unnoticed, at a cellular level your body will register the negative impact of bad sleep and you will not function properly – or at least as optimally as you would like.
There are two important sleep phases that need to be mentioned here:
- Deep sleep: this is the most rejuvenative sleep stage and it’s linked to muscle health
- REM sleep: Rapid Eye Movement sleep is important for both your mind and body and is linked to memory consolidation and creativity.
When these stages of sleep are regularly negatively affected, you will mostly likely suffer from insomnia.
Ways to treat insomnia
6 things to avoid before bedtime
- Avoid drinking stimulants such as caffeinated coffees and teas before going to sleep, or any other drinks that contain caffeine, after 3PM
- Avoid sugary drinks, including carbonated ones or juice as they will make your insulin spike and make you alert before going to bed.
- Avoid processed foods (junk food), such as sweets, crisps, microwaveable meals; same as above, they will make your body excited just before going to bed
- Avoid smoking cigarettes as this will increase your dopamine levels and excites your system
- Avoid looking at bright screens, such as TV and smartphones for a couple of hours before bedtime. Looking at bright screens will trick your brain into believing that it’s daytime and will make you very alert
- Avoid physical activity before going to bed. This will release hormones that do not agree with relaxation
4 things to do before bedtime
- Relax by listening to soothing music or taking a bath
- Write on a journal by focusing on things that you are grateful for
- Make your room cool and comfortable. Lower temperature in the bedroom has been proven to facilitate and maintain good quality sleep
- Do some meditation if that is your thing – this will slow down your breathing and mind
3 things to do if you wake up in the middle of the night
- If you can’t get to fall asleep within 30 minutes, let go of that expectation and take some deep breaths
- Accept the fact that you might not fall asleep again during that night, get out of bed, do something relaxing (such as reading a book or drinking a hot non-sugary drink) and set the intention to spend a stress-free day and go to bed at a decent time the following day
- If you feel anxious or have a sense of doom, once again, don’t just lie in bed: get up and turn on a couple of lights just to orient yourself to time and space. When we wake up in the middle of the night, it can be quite disorienting for us and the darkness might feed into a sense of dread. This is just the legacy left to us by the primitive men so that we are always on the lookout for danger.
The main message is: sleep is extremely important, but you might happen to lose some. If that happens, accept that this is happening, put in place the tips provided above, and be nice to yourself.