If you suffer from sleep disturbances then please be assured that you are not alone. Research from this year in the UK, 2021, has shown that a staggering 36% of adults have difficulty in falling asleep at some point during the week with a further 1 in 5 having difficulty each night. Adults require between 7 and 9 hours of sleep each night but unfortunately many get much less.
Of course, there may be many reasons for insufficient sleep and you should always discuss any medical or psychological worries you may have with a professional. However, for many of us, we just have trouble falling asleep for no apparent reason and regrettably this can affect our performance at work and impact on both our motor and cognitive behaviour.
Sleep is governed by our ‘internal clock’ or the more professional term is the ‘suprachiasmatic nucleus’. Certain chemicals are released to keep everything ‘ticking’ over such as melatonin, cortisol and adenosine.
Sleep is a time when our bodies and minds are in a recovery and rest state, ready for when we awake and therefore feel refreshed and recharged, ready for the day ahead.
At work, we need to be alert, focussed and be able to fully concentrate on whatever we are doing and a good night's sleep beforehand and a routine will help considerably. As previously mentioned, if you feel your sleep deprivation is due to factors out of your control, please also speak to your manager or HR representative as they may be able to support you.
Here are 7 simple steps for a restful sleep ~
Avoid large meals, sugary food, caffeine and alcohol in the hours before you go to bed. Heavy meals take longer to digest and we definitely want to avoid the ‘sugar rush’. Caffeine has a half life of five hours which basically means if you have two cups of tea or coffee before bed then a whole cup of associated caffeine is still in your system after five hours. Not only will it keep us awake, it may cause numerous trips to ‘spend a penny’ throughout the night! Herbal tea or milk (dairy or plant based) is by far a much better option because of their natural sleep inducing properties.
Our body temperature naturally drops shortly before sleep due to the sleep inducing hormone ‘melatonin’ being released so keeping your bedroom comfortably cool is a good idea with ‘breathable’ bedding and nightwear. Ventilation is also desirable so as to control the room's humidity.
Your bedroom should be dark and quiet with curtains or blinds closed and electrical devices either removed or switched off. Technology suppresses sleep hormones by stimulating the brain with noise and also emitting a short wavelength enriched light known as the ‘blue light’.
The National Sleep Foundation recommends certain scents that will soothe your body by releasing relaxing chemicals from the brain. These include lavender, geranium, ylang-ylang and cedarwood. Specialised pillow sprays are available to aid sleep but nothing beats the wonderful soft scent of freshly laundered bedding!
A warm bath as opposed to an invigorating shower with relaxing scents and dimmed lighting will further put you in a relaxed state and thus send signals to your brain that you are winding down.
Journaling has also proved helpful to promote sleep. Write briefly what you are grateful for, what has gone right for you during the day and to be thankful. Any worries, stress or outstanding tasks can be dealt with tomorrow or another day. Make writing in your journal the ‘cut off point’ for worrying and continue to focus on sleep and the here and now.
Meditation is extremely popular and effective in relaxing the body and mind. You can either do this yourself by focusing on your breathing and with each exhale, releasing all stress and worry. Each time an unwanted thought appears, you simply shift the focus back to your calm and deep breathing. There are also many online sleep meditations which are specifically tailored to enable a deep and refreshing sleep. Just be mindful to turn all electronic devices off afterwards, (if you're still awake!)