Suffolk therapist’s top 4 tips for getting more sleep
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Birgitte Wendon-Blixrud of Suffolk Wellbeing Service explains how lack of rest can affect the body, and why the Covid pandemic has played a part in sleepless nights.
Sleep – it’s something we all love, but do we get enough of it? Recent figures from Suffolk Mind found that 60% of survey respondents admitted they don’t feel sufficiently rested enough after a night’s sleep, with the charity’s chief executive Jon Neal saying it was “becoming a bit of a public health concern.”
But why exactly do we need sleep, and how much should we be getting?
“Sleep is really important because it serves several functions,” explains Birgitte. “It repairs and strengthens the immune system, allows our muscles to relax and reduces our heart rate.
“During our REM sleep, we process our daily experiences, so we ‘file them away’ - and there’s actually research that says during sleep, our brains are, in a way, ‘cleaned’. The neurons go through a cleansing process, and if we don’t get enough sleep, that’s why we often feel groggy the next day.”
REM, which stands for Rapid Eye Movement, is when the eyes go back and forth during the sleep cycle. “It’s part of our sleep rhythm. When we sleep, we go through different phases, and REM sleep is one of those.”
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People usually enter the REM stage during the first 90 minutes of falling asleep. It then happens several times throughout the night, and is when most dreams occur.
With the average adult needing between seven and eight hours of sleep every night, and many failing to get that, it’s no wonder growing numbers of Brits are feeling the after effects the following day – with some of these going on to create greater problems further down the line.
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“The most common symptoms of not getting a good night’s sleep include feeling tired, struggling to concentrate, and feeling irritable. But a lack of sleep certainly plays a part in our overall mental wellbeing, too.
“If we don’t get enough sleep, we’re more likely to worry, feel a bit more sensitive or feel low. We might interpret our environment in a more personalised way, which can certainly increase worry and anxiety, and affect low mood.”
While many people occasionally struggle with getting enough sleep, the ongoing coronavirus crisis has only exacerbated these issues for many.
“A lot of people’s lives have been disrupted in different ways due to the pandemic, and sleep is one of those life factors that would certainly be affected. People are worrying, they’re going out less and socialising less. Children were off school for many months, and some people have been furloughed. All of those things that are good for our wellbeing have been compromised during the pandemic.
“When we don’t have anything to do, it can disrupt our sleeping pattern greatly, but getting up at the same time every morning is really helpful for our circadian rhythm.
The circadian rhythm is the body’s natural routine that follows a 24-hour cycle – in other words, our daily lives.
“Our bodies crave routine – we like to eat around three meals a day, have regular toilet breaks and we need a certain number of hours’ sleep. Our bodies need a rhythm, and if that’s disrupted, that can also lead to sleep disruption.”
While many may be feeling a sense of helplessness during the current pandemic, there are a number of ways to take control of your sleeping patterns, in order to regain those much-needed hours of rest.
Firstly, be sure to restrict certain activities in the run-up before bedtime, such as eating, drinking caffeine and napping. The general rule is to not eat three hours before bed, and avoid caffeinated drinks around four to six hours before you’re due to sleep.
“Secondly, make sure the temperature of the room is comfortable for you, and ensure light and noise levels are low.
“Thirdly, having a ‘wind down’ time before bed can be really important, as it helps the body relax and signals to the brain that the body is getting ready for sleep. Put your phone away about an hour before sleeping and move away from the screen. Instead, perhaps read a book, dim the lights, and have a warm milky drink. The melatonin will start to kick in and help you feel drowsy. But if we’re on our phones or watching TV, it stimulates the brain and prevents it from slowing down.
“Finally, worry is something that can stop people from sleeping, so writing down your worries before bed and becoming aware of any ‘threat thoughts’ can be very helpful. For instance, some people worry about not getting enough sleep, and that in itself can lead the body to believe it needs to stay away awake as there’s a ‘threat’. When we’re sleeping, we’re more vulnerable, so managing our worries beforehand can be really helpful to improve sleep.”
Birgitte adds that if any of the above tips do not make a difference to your sleep routine, further assistance is out there.
“The Suffolk Wellbeing Service offers help and support to improve wellbeing by managing stress, low mood and anxiety. People don’t need to put up with not sleeping or suffering from low mood, especially during winter.”
To find out more about sleep management, visit www.wellbeingnands.co.uk or call 0300 123 1503.