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Are you getting a good nights kip?

What do we spend a third of our lives doing? Working? Moaning? Scratching our heads? Apparently we spend a whole third of our lives with our eyes shut to the world dreaming of worlds familiar but unfamiliar (last night you were in my dream; well, it was you, but it wasn’t you, if you know what I mean?) Eh, no. I personally find that ball park statistic a little farfetched – I know of plenty people who are delighted to get 5 hours a night. Napoleon, Florence Nightingale and The Iron Lady a.k.a Margaret Thatcher trudged on with as little as 4 hours a night. Thomas Edison on the other hand was of the opinion it was ‘a waste of time.’

Does every person require the same amount of sleep to function? Are there exceptional people who just don’t need that much sleep and can go about their daily tasks will full alertness day in day out? As with everything, we’re all completely different. A good guide line to go by is simply to get enough sleep so you don’t feel tired the next day! I know from my own experience that if I don’t get my regular 8 hours I am a seriously unpleasant being until the day drags past and I can attempt to claw back the sleep I lost out on the night before. Just two nights before writing this I found myself waking my husband up in the middle of the night to yell at him for breathing too loud, that he was the sole reason I wasn’t sleeping – I believe I was of the irrational opinion that if I wasn’t sleeping then no one was; I was not flavour of the month the day after by any means.

I think sleep deprivation is something that each and every one of us can relate to – the source of this problem can differ dramatically from person to person. One person’s crying baby will be another’s relentless partners snoring. Sometimes the obvious remedies work, the majority of the time this frustratingly isn’t the case. Having continuous sleep deprivation can have serious implications on your health (having been linked to stress, obesity, high blood pressure, heart disease and stroke.)

What happens when we don’t sleep?

Sleep is essential for maintaining cognitive skills such as memory, speech and flexible thinking – in other words, sleep is vital for brain development. From my own experiences if I haven’t slept well the night before my responses are slow; my concentration is next to none; my memory capacity will struggle to rival a goldfishes and my day will be shockingly unproductive – even picking up my shoes and placing them in the wardrobe will seem like a burden when I’m having one of these days!

17 hours of sustained wakefulness leaves you with the same sensation of having two glasses of wine– this is because the decrease in performance and alertness is exactly the same. Those of you getting up at 7am and not sleeping until midnight or later can identify with this!

More frighteningly, sleep deprivation is a constant contributing factor to accidents around the world, and was a significant factor in the Alaskan Exxon Valdez oil spill in 1989.

How to get a good nights kip!

So now that we have established that no sleep is no good, it’s time to take the necessary measures to ensure you’re getting the sleep you need to live a healthy life.

First and foremost it’s important to look at your behaviour on the run up to bed time.

Things to cut out: Look away now, there’s going to be at least one thing you’re not going to like reading here! Alcohol, caffeine, smoking, big meals and drinking liquids before bedtime are all things you should consider cutting out. Alcohol reduces your sleep quality and can wake you throughout the night. Caffeine can stay in the body for up to 12 hours after drinking it – avoiding it after lunch is advisable so that it’s well out of your system by bedtime. Drinking lots of liquids such as water and tea will ensure your sleep is interrupted by at least one trip to the bathroom in the middle of the night. Having big meals that are high in fat means the stomach will struggle in digestion and may prevent you from getting to sleep comfortably – trapped wind and stomach cramps are a guarantee for sleep prevention! Smoking is one of the major causes of sleep disruption. It’s essentially a stimulant, which, like caffeine, is going to fight your body’s natural instinct to sleep when you go to bed.

Exercise and sleep: You may not initially associate exercise with sleep, but believe it or not 30 minutes a day can help you sleep sounded and longer, in turn making you feel more awake during the day. When to exercise is important however; if it’s done at the wrong time it can have the adverse effect and keep you awake. Exercising vigorously roughly 3 hours before bedtime will stimulate the heart, brain and muscles – not the sort of relaxed state that is essential for nodding off!  Either outdoor walking first thing in the morning or a vigorous work out in the late afternoon or early evening appears to be of most benefit (cardiovascular exercises are the best in regards to the sleep/exercise relationship, due to the increase and decrease pattern in body temperature.)

Your environment: Being comfortable when you go to bed means the difference between a good night’s sleep and a great night’s sleep. A comfortable mattress is so important for good sleeping patterns. If you’re waking up with a stiff neck or back first try using different pillows (you should just use one for sleeping) and if that doesn’t work then look into investing in a good quality mattress (memory foam seems to be getting the best reviews at the moment.) Your room should be a suitably cool temperature (around 18 degrees) as a room that is too hot or too cold can interfere with sleep and leave you tossing and turning into the wee hours! Make sure the room is as dark as possible as this encourages your eyes to stay closed – any electronic stand by lights or street lamps should be blacked out if possible. Try to minimise noise in and around your house – don’t be afraid to ask the person next door to you to turn the TV down if it’s being disruptive! If your partner is bad at snoring encourage them to lie on their side as this can help control it – or as a last resort invest in some earplugs! If you are a new mother with a baby that loves to cry in the night try to nap whenever possible – even if it’s during the day. Although many will argue with this suggestion, many mothers recommend co-sleeping for a few weeks until the baby settles.

Relaxing techniques: Being relaxed is ultimately going to play a big factor in helping you slip into a pleasant sleep. One of my favourite ways to relax before bed is to have a warm candlelit bath and to play soft music - piano music completely chills me out – there are some gorgeous piano pieces on a recent ‘Ultimate Relaxation’ album I bought for my treatment room. Deep breathing techniques and gentle yoga exercises are a great way for unwinding before going to bed and can help to avoid muscles tensing during sleep.

Tune out from the world: Bedtime is the one guaranteed time of the day that you can tune out from the outside world and relax. Avoiding television, upbeat music, mobile phones, the internet and video games will encourage your mind to switch off - all of these stimulate the mind and not necessarily in a good way and can leave you feeling irritable going to sleep (have you ever come across an update on Facebook that’s annoyed you to your core? That’s the angle I’m coming from!) Stories on the news can have the same effect and can leave you feeling stressed and in disbelief. If stresses and anxieties come into your head when you’re trying to drift off try to mentally chase them away and replace them with a happy, peaceful thought and try to focus on that instead. Also, organising yourself for the day ahead should try and eliminate some stress – knowing that you won’t be rushing around in the morning should help settle your mind. Another lifestyle factor that may affect your sleep is if there are ill feelings with anyone close to you – going to sleep with a clean conscience after making amends with that person will make you feel far more content and likely to sleep well.

If you have tried and tested all of the above and are suffering extreme fatigue and other health problems as a result of no sleep you should as always visit your GP for advice.

Good night and sleep tight! 


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