How to sleep better and why it’s so important!

  • Ali

Can’t sleep, struggle to get to sleep, or just want a better night’s sleep?

After the birth of Miss H I recall saying “sleep deprivation, it’s a form of torture in some countries!” While that might not be true for what you’re suffering from, lack of sleep can significantly affect our overall lives.

Sleep plays a vital role in good health and well-being and getting enough quality sleep at the right times can help protect your mental health, physical health, quality of life, and safety.

The way you feel while awake depends, in part, on what happens while you're sleeping. During sleep, your body is working to support healthy brain function and maintain your physical health. In children and teens, sleep also helps support growth and development which is why Miss H likes nothing more than a lie in if she’s not on the rowing lake!

The damage from sleep deficiency can occur in an instant (such as a car crash or accident at work), or it can harm you over time. For example, ongoing sleep deficiency can raise your risk for some chronic health problems. It also can affect how well you think, react, work, learn, and get along with others. So if you struggle to fall asleep or wonder how you can better sleep, keep reading!

Healthy Brain Function and Emotional Well-Being

Sleep helps your brain work properly. While you're sleeping, your brain is preparing for the next day. It's forming new pathways to help you learn and remember information.

Studies show that a good night's sleep improves learning. Whether you're learning math, how to play the piano, how to perfect your golf swing, or how to drive a car, sleep helps enhance your learning and problem-solving skills. Sleep also helps you pay attention, make decisions, and be creative.

Studies also show that sleep deficiency alters activity in some parts of the brain. If you're sleep deficient, you may have trouble making decisions, solving problems, controlling your emotions and behaviour, and coping with change. It has also been linked to depression, suicide, and risk-taking behaviour.

Physical Health

Sleep plays an important role in your physical health. For example, sleep is involved in healing and repair of your heart and blood vessels. Ongoing sleep deficiency is linked to an increased risk of heart disease, kidney disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, and stroke.

Sleep deficiency also increases the risk of obesity which may be linked to a healthy hormone balance as sleep helps maintain a healthy balance of the hormones that make you feel hungry (ghrelin) or full (leptin). When you don't get enough sleep, your level of ghrelin goes up and your level of leptin goes down. This makes you feel hungrier than when you're well-rested.

Sleep also affects how your body reacts to insulin, the hormone that controls your blood glucose (sugar) level. Sleep deficiency results in a higher than normal blood sugar level, which may increase your risk for diabetes. This coupled with a high sugar and carbohydrate diet (which converts to sugar in the body) can be a real problem.

Sleep also supports healthy growth and development. When we are in deep sleep the body triggers the release of the hormone that promotes normal growth in children and teens. This hormone also boosts muscle mass and helps repair cells and tissues in children, teens, and adults.

Your immune system relies on sleep to stay healthy. This system defends your body against foreign or harmful substances. Ongoing sleep deficiency can change the way in which your immune system responds making you more susceptible to common infections.

Many people don’t have sleep problems; they seamlessly drift off into their slumbers and wake up refreshed after their full night’s sleep.

For some, getting to sleep isn’t the problem, it’s waking up in the night for whatever reason and then not being to get back to sleep again.

For others it could be both these issues in that they struggle to get to sleep and wake up in the night.

Sleep really is a bit of an enigma. You don’t know you’re asleep until you wake up and we often wake up thinking we’ve had a bad night’s sleep when in fact we’ve done pretty well but have just been sleeping very lightly towards the end of our sleep pattern.

So what is it that normal sleepers do, that others don’t? If you feel like you can’t sleep or want better sleep there’s plenty you can do to encourage a good night’s sleep!

It’s all about relaxation. 

We instinctively know how to sleep, but for whatever reason, something has disrupted its rhythm. At a certain point in the evening, good sleepers start to feel tired, so they get ready to go to bed. They may read, and then its lights out, they snuggle down, relax and then get transported from tired to drowsy and off into their deep slumbers. Basically, they’ve hit the sweet spot and doing what their body does naturally.

When we can’t sleep, we ‘try’, ‘struggle’ or ‘force’ ourselves to sleep or to go back to sleep and, of course, that doesn’t work. It always seems we can’t sleep when we’ve got an early start or an important day, and it’s crucial that we get enough sleep so that we look our best and we’re not tired; or it could be a long term problem. It’s only when we give up the fight, that we may find we’ve dropped off.

There are many ways of relaxing your brain and body before sleeping so you can get to sleep, but here are my top tips.

Turn off your device

Turn your electronic devices off. Sitting and watching the blue light that is emitted from a screen just before bedtime is generally a bad idea. The light emitted stimulates our brain and disrupts our sleep, making it difficult for us to get to sleep and stay asleep.

Meditate or follow mindfulness techniques

If I’m struggling to drop off (not very often if I’m honest) or if I’ve woken in the night with a lot of my mind and struggle to get back to sleep I find following some meditation techniques really helps. I love the headspace app as Andy Puddicombe’s voice is so soothing. I now do a 10 - 15 minute meditation every morning when I wake up and I find it sets me up for the day but you could equally do it before bedtime too.

Meditation really does help me relax and before I know it I’ve dropped off. I tend not to reach for my phone in the middle of the night if I can’t sleep but simply follow some general meditation techniques.

Body flow

I think about each part of my body and tense it or crunch it up then relax it while concentrating on my in and my out breath. I start with my toes and work all the way through my body. I rarely have to go through more than two rounds before I’m waking up the next morning.

Take a breath

Focus on your breathing and count your in and your out breaths up to ten then begin at one again – breathe in one, breathe out two, breathe in three breathe out four etc. This calms the nervous system and allows the breathing to steady enabling you to relax and drift into sleep.

Thoughts are feelings

Acknowledging thoughts or feelings that come up, putting them on a cloud and letting them float away. If you can acknowledge that thoughts and feeling are just that, nothing more, and accept them rather than getting swept up in an inner dialogue about them, you can let them drift away.

It’s worth learning a couple of meditation techniques that could work for you to help you get to sleep and stay asleep.

Getting a better night’s sleep is as simple as you contacting me for a chat.