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Sleep is such a big part of our lives, yet so many of us struggle to get a full 8 hours. Some of us who have experienced sleepless nights will know how hard it can be. Sometimes in the small hours of the night, everything seems a lot more heightened, problems seem bigger and anxiety more gripping. In fact the more I toss and turn, looking at the clock and counting the hours I won’t have slept, the more anxious I become. My sleep is often disturbed, is it hormonal, or perhaps I’m spending more time in front of a computer, or maybe it’s because I seem to have a lot more things to fit in my days. Every time I catch up with emails, more spill through. Social media can be great but I am now also in constant contact with friends that I wouldn’t have seen for months on end before, now their messages and posts are just another thing to keep up with, and maybe another person to keep happy?
Whatever the reason I seem a lot more stressed, anxious and maybe suffering from insomnia as a result, so I called in Villy for help.
Villy is a Certified Health & Lifestyle Coach and the founder of HeelsMatter. Her passion is taking women on a journey to discover and connect with what Happy & Healthy mean for them, on their terms. Villy uses a low stress, functional approach to health, covering food, movement, stress, sleep, relaxation, fun and spirituality with a strong focus on our internal (mindset & biochemistry) and external environments (relationships, home life, work choices, joy).
Why sleep comes before food
Sleep deprivation is sheer torture, right? It’s actually used as a torture method in some prisons!
We NEED good, restful sleep. Not much explanation needed here as we all know how awful we feel on 4h sleep. The body recharges, *cleans house* and rejuvenates during sleep. Hence the term *beauty sleep*. No, it ain’t just for women!
Even though we are asleep, our bodies are busy at night. We process significant toxins (morning breath anyone?), repair & heal damaged tissue, generate vital white blood cells for immunity, eliminate the effects of stress, and process heavy emotions.
Not that we need science to tell us how much we love our zzzz hours, but lack of sustained optimal sleep has been linked to pretty much every imbalance and dis-ease dynamic in the body.
“Regular poor sleep puts you at risk of serious medical conditions, including obesity, heart disease and diabetes – and it shortens your life expectancy.” ~ NHS
Deep sleep is kind of a big thing. Yet sleep deprivation has become an epidemic in our modern society.
The results by the Sleep Council’s Great British Bedtime Report are quite telling. More than a third (35%) of Brits have suffered from sleeping problems for more than five years; a fifth (20%) for more than 10.
The top three things that disturb our sleep are:
- worry or stress (45%),
- partner disturbance (25%)
- and noise (20%)
Unsurprisingly, more than half of respondents (55%) feel ready to face the day after a good night’s sleep.
When asked what aspect of their life was most affected by lack of sleep,
- 53% said energy levels,
- 52% mood,
- 36% health,
- 23% work performance
- and 21% personal relationships.
Hardly surprising that most us feel better about life in general after a good night’s sleep! TIP: If you’re feeling low, unmotivated, anxious and stressed, asses your sleep quality before you move onto more complex investigations.
We tend to often jump to quick fix remedies when we feel exhausted (understandably), with the hope that something will work for us. Whilst they have their place and can be very helpful, they are often just band aid solution. Trust me on this, this gal suffered for over 10 years with severe insomnia, I’ve tried them all!
It’s crucial that we understand WHY it is that we don’t sleep and address the root causes so we can truly thrive vs just survive with the help of a remedy.
Putting the basics in place aka laying the house foundations before choosing the curtains
I appreciate these points do not sound very sexy, radically new or very complex, but I cannot stress enough how important they are and how many people overlook them. They solve about 70% of my clients’ sleep issues!
Circadian rhythm & sleep – our body’s master clock. It controls the sleeping and the waking cycle, present in all living creatures and it is tied to the sun.
We control the cycle through our environment. Light sends a message through the eyes to the pineal gland, which communicates with our whole body and systems. The pineal gland is where our sleep hormone melatonin is made. As the sun sets we move from the white light to yellow, orange, amber tones. Watching a sunset will send a message to the nervous system to wind down, it has a physiological effect.
Our modern day problem is that we don’t wake with the sun and sleep with the moon anymore, we are awake in the evening getting white, blue light into our eyes and the pineal gland. This stimulates cortisol, our stress and alertness hormone. Being the wise *machine* that our body is, melatonin and cortisol are competing hormones, meaning when one is elevated the level of the other one goes down.
Cortisol should be at its highest in the morning to help us happily get out of bed and at its lowest in the evening. The melatonin cycle is the opposite.
What else negatively impacts our circadian rhythm other than light?
- Stimulating reading & stimulating conversations in the evening
- Thinking, memorising and problem solving in the hours before bed. Why your mum wouldn’t take No for an answer, what you need to tell your boss first thing in the morning, your full inbox…..
- Arguments before bed – a no-brainer that one!
- Watching TV before bed, especially drama, crime and obviously, horror. Your body doesn’t know that these things are not real! The noise, not just the content, has been shown to negatively impact melatonin
- Bright room lights in the evening
- Irregular sleep patterns
- Being on electronic devices before bed – computers, laptops, tablets, phones
- Leading predominantly sedentary lifestyles and spending most of out time indoors. Our bodies are designed to move and get natural sunlight
- Generally not being happy with life – where we currently are in life vs where we thought/would like to be
- Unprocessed trauma – physical, mental, emotional. It doesn’t need to be recent or even that big/obvious
Food and the negative impact on sleep
- Eating processed vs real food. The impact is enormous in general, but especially at night.
- Eating too late at night or eating larger meals later at night. Digesting and sleeping well do not go hand in hand. The digestive process requires an awful lot of energy, way more than most people realise!
- Eating too early in the evening and waking up hungry
- Eating foods that don’t agree with us (especially at night!) OR mixing foods that we struggle to digest well together. This could be anything from mild to more severe intolerances causing bloating, gas, heaviness, slower digestion, aches and pains (join pain, headaches etc.)
- Alcohol falls in here too! It can help us seemingly fall asleep faster for us only to wake up during the night or early morning unable to go back to sleep. Restful sleep and alcohol truly don’t mix well
- Stimulants like coffee, dark chocolate, green/regular tea. Everyone’s tolerance levels vary, but these can and do create problems for many of us regardless of the fact that they are so ingrained in our cultural habits
- Consuming large amounts of liquids close to bed – you find yourself needing to get up at night and then struggle to go back to sleep
- Consuming salty, dry food before bed and wake up feeling thirsty
Room environment and sleep.
- Bedroom too hot or too cold
- Covers are too thick, too thin or not comfy
- Bedroom is not dark enough or there are flashing lights from devices
- Uncomfortable bed/mattress
- Sharing a bed with someone who snores or gets up during the night and wakes us up. Note: waking up a few times a night and falling back to sleep is normal. It becomes a problem when we are wide awake and unable to go back to sleep for longer than a few minutes
- Room noise or outside noise
- Dry or stuffy air i.e. room hasn’t been properly aired or heaters during the winter months causing breathing issues
- Dustmites in bedding that affect our breathing
- General dust that impacts breathing – curtains, carpets, covers, surfaces
- Damp or mold in the room. These are not great regardless so make sure to check!
- Electronic devices in the room – TV, computers, phones. Electromagnetic Radiation (EMF) is a form of energy that can cause changes in the space surrounding electronic devices. (Ideally, they should be all out of the room. At the very least, turned off or in airplane mode.)
All of these things massively impact our sleep and restoration during the night.
Of course, beyond the basics, there are other dynamics within our body that can prevent us from sleeping optimally. Star with the foundational principles and see if there is anything you could improve on!
Grab Villy’s handy summary of the basics here