Sleep. It’s an essential requirement for human beings, just as important as food and water.
Yet many of us go without – and even sometimes deliberately deprive ourselves of it.
So, let’s delve into why it is so important, and how a lack of sleep can have a devastating effect on our health, both physical and mental.
First, a personal take.
About six years ago I had a lot of things going on in my life. Not only was I living with unresolved grief from my eldest son’s father dying by suicide, my mum had just had a diagnosis of secondary cancer, my youngest son had become unwell and my mother-in-law was about to go to live in a home as she was living with Alzheimer’s Disease. I was also trying to hold on to a job I loved.
I found myself going from nine to ten hours sleep a night to sometimes four.
I was lying awake worrying about the future, my job and trying to manage all the hospital and doctor’s appointments that I needed to attend.
In the absence of sleep, I turned to caffeine. I would easily drink five cups before lunch without even thinking about it, convinced it would help me get through this difficult time and sleep deprivation.
This, I later discovered, was not a great combination. Lack of sleep combined with high caffeine intake resulted in me becoming very anxious and my memory became foggy. Soon I started to experience panic attacks which felt like they came out of nowhere.
This is when I knew something had to change.
I reached out for help and started to work through my unresolved grief. I reduced my caffeine intake and took time to focus on my routine leading up to bedtime and started going for walks.
Gradually I started to notice I was feeling lighter, less anxious, and more accepting of help. And of course, my sleep improved.
With better sleep came better mental health and with better mental health came better sleep. You can’t have one without the other.
For most adults the optimum amount of sleep is between seven and nine hours a night.
Of course, life events mean that sometimes we don’t get enough, but it is vital that we make an effort to get the sleep we need.
Too little sleep can leave people vulnerable to attention lapses, delayed reaction, low mood, even depression. Physically, a lack of sleep can leave us at higher risk of certain diseases and medical conditions, including heart disease, stroke.
So, what can you do to make sure you’re getting enough?
The first thing is to establish a good bedtime routine, which is vital to keep our body rhythms in check.
We should make sure we:
- Go to bed and get up at the same time each day.
- Take time to relax before bed and consider a screen ban in the evening – those artificial lights can play havoc with brain functions, convincing your body that it’s daytime.
- Have a comfortable sleep environment at a comfortable temperature.
- Exercise during the day to make you feel more tired at night.
- Cut down on caffeine, particularly later in the day.
Sometimes people who struggle with sleep patterns over a long period of time develop a sleep disorder and the ill-effects they experience almost become normal.
Insomnia affects around 35 per cent of adults, meaning they have problems getting to sleep and staying asleep.
For those suffering from insomnia, professional help may sometimes be sought to help find ways to get back on track.
I help people find ways to help themselves and others through Mental Health Awareness and Mental Health First Aid Training plus one-to-one coaching.
I can also draw on my personal experience of overcoming sleep difficulties to help others.
Get in touch to find out how I can help you.