22 December 2020

There’s no denying it: without enough sleep, you are more than likely to fall flat on your face, perform tasks terribly, and end up as a version of yourself that you don’t particularly like (the movie ‘Fight Club’ comes to mind). Sleep is part of our DNA, and we need a certain amount of it to function correctly both internally and externally.

The amount of good-quality sleep that we get can determine how we perform daily. We all know too well those days when we haven’t had enough sleep: the shirt has been put on back to front, you can’t find your car keys, you drive to work instead of the gym… the list goes on. So, what is the right amount of sleep? Through this article, I am going to draw on some examples and tips to determine what may work for the average active person. I will also highlight the best practices to perform every day to give yourself the best chance of a great night’s sleep.

Now, sit tight, and try and stay awake!

To start with, what is sleep? Sleep is a natural state of mind and consciousness. Our bodies go into a voluntary state of relaxation with little muscle activity, apart from Rapid Eye Movement (REM), better known as the dream state. During sleep, most of the body’s systems are in an anabolic state which assists in the restoration and rejuvenation of the immune, nervous, skeletal, and muscular systems. This is one of the reasons why sleep is so important. Not getting enough sleep can have an adverse effect on your performance, productivity, decision-making, and mental and physical health.

Research has shown that to lead a healthy lifestyle, we should be aiming for 6 – 8 hours’ sleep each night. All of us have an internal clock to remind us that our bodies are need of replenishing - and to achieve that, we need to sleep. We are all wired to sleep during the night or in a dark space. Ideally, we should go to sleep in an area with no distractions, which allows the mind and body to relax. My previous Personal Trainer gave helpful tips on getting a good night’s sleep, such as making sure there was no light, turning off all screens (like TVs and phones), drawing the curtains, and avoiding reading in bed.

Creating a daily exercise routine will also help you sleep better. It reduces the symptoms of sleep apnea (a sleep disorder in which breathing stops and starts) and insomnia (a sleep disorder in which you have trouble falling or staying asleep). The more you exercise regularly, the better your chances of being able to go into a deep and restorative sleep. It is recommended that your daily exercise routine is performed at the same time each day, and at least 3 hours before you turn in for the night. Having said that, it takes time to build a regular and healthy sleep pattern - so don’t be disappointed if it doesn’t happen overnight. Like everything, changing your lifestyle takes time to see the fruits of your labour.

Some of us often find we are unable to sleep due to events that have accumulated throughout the day. A build-up of stress, worry, or anger can make it very difficult to sleep. Setting aside some time to wind down and clear your mind will assist your state of sleep. Finding rituals and relaxation techniques - like a bath, an app that helps you fall asleep, or listening to an audiobook - will help you fall asleep more quickly, and sleep for longer. There are other tools to help you with going to sleep, it’s just a case of finding one that suits you. For me, it is a breathing technique that helps my body relax. Breathing from your belly rather than your chest can trigger relaxation within your body, and lower your heart rate, blood pressure and stress levels - all of which helps you drop off to sleep.

Your daytime eating habits also determine how well you sleep at night. Research shows that certain foods and drinks prevent the ability to sleep properly; caffeine is one such drink as it can continue to stimulate the brain 12 hours after consuming it. If possible, reduce or limit your caffeine intake. Consuming copious amounts of alcohol should also be reduced to aid in a good night’s sleep.

Avoid big meals at night, particularly spicy and acidic foods as they have a propensity to cause stomach trouble and heartburn. And if you are like me - having to get up to go to the toilet at night - try to reduce your liquid intake so that you are not interrupted by your bladder in the middle of the night. Other foods to avoid are sugar, and refined carbs such as white bread, pasta, and white rice.

Sleep deprivation, although seen as a great skill to have in the army and certain sporting activities like sailing, is not something the average Joe Bloggs should have to endure. Sometimes, though, we can’t avoid it; the main culprits are being a parent or suffering major stress. As a parent, when you’re looking after young ones that have their own and frequent internal clock, practising good sleep patterns with your child/ren can put you out of sync with your own. You will find that your sleeping pattern is short, but you might also find these short periods of sleep (between 10 – 30 minutes) can be quite deep and energising (also known as a power nap).  Try and sleep when your little ones sleep - and remember, their sleep patterns will improve as they get older!

In conclusion, getting a good night’s sleep will benefit you ahead of the next day’s activities, and keep your body running the way it should. The phrase ‘slept like a baby’ is something that we should aspire to each time we go to bed.


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