Why So Many Of Us Struggle With It & Things You Can Do To Help
Sleep; how much of it we’re getting and the quality of it, is becoming more and more talked about. From Arianna Huffington declaring that a sleep revolution will allow us to better solve the world's problems, to claims that not getting enough sleep is as bad for us as smoking, it’s no wonder we’re becoming a little obsessed with our shut-eye time.
This shift from the days when being able to claim that you could survive off 4-hours per night was seen as a badge of honour, to the importance of sleep and it’s ability to help us thrive now being acknowledged, is certainly a positive. Opening up the conversation around sleep is also helping to highlight just how many of us struggle with sleep issues from time to time, in fact around 30 to 40 percent of adults indicate some level of insomnia within any given year. For many of us, a bad night is the first signal that our minds are spending too much time in over-drive. In these times of incessant stimulation, with so much information bombarding us 24/7, it’s no real surprise that our ability to switch this off when the time comes for slumber is a real challenge.
We recently attended one of Ruby Wax’s walk-in centres here in London, which she is aiming to roll out across the country as a support service, not necessarily for those with mental illness but for those who feel they're on the cusp of burning out or simply going up the ladder of ‘stressdom’. The session which we attended was all about sleep, our relationship with it, and it’s connection with our mental health. Chaired by Ruby, the session was hosted by Dr Russell Foster, a professor of circadian neuroscience.
Russell eloquently discussed what many of us experience the day after a bad night; the desire to prop ourselves up with caffeine and sugar, and then bring ourselves back down again with alcohol or other sedatives when the time comes for sleep once more - he called this the sedative-stimulus loop. Of course his advice was not to get caught in this loop, and instead ride the wave of tiredness the following day by fuelling your body with vitamin & nutrient rich foods, and avoiding napping, so that by the time the evening comes around, your body at least feels ready for sleep.
Cortisol is the key hormone which keeps our minds from quietening into a peaceful slumber. Particularly when we’re anxious about the fact that we’re not asleep, and desperate for this to occur for fear of what the consequences may be if we don’t the following day, cortisol levels can soar. Russell’s advice was that we each need to find our own ways to bring our cortisol levels down, that could be a warm bath or reading before bed, running, meditation or yoga, whatever it is that rids your body of some of that anxious energy and helps to get you closer to a place of peace and calm.
As an occasional poor sleeper myself, one of the simplest yet most profound things that has helped me over the years is mindfulness, and learning to compassionately accept my state of restlessness for what it is, rather than try to fight it. By making friends with my fear, accepting it and allowing it to be, I avoid the drama around the inability to sleep, which prevents the cortisol levels from racing, and eventually allows me to drift off peacefully. Another tool which I have recently discovered is Sleepio an online personalised sleep improvement plan, which draws on techniques of Cognitive Behavioural Therapy, giving you access to ways to adapt your patterns of thought.
So it’s good to talk about sleep, knowing that if you’re battling with it, you’re certainly not alone, and there are things you can do to help yourself - starting by not battling with it!
On Wednesday 17th February, our friends at publisher Penguin Random House are running an event all about how to get a good nights sleep! Hosted by Dr Jason Ellis, professor of sleep science at Northumbria University, he will share ways to recapture the joys of a really good kip. We are able to offer an exclusive 50% discount, meaning the tickets to this event are just £5. Simply use the code workwellbeing when booking here: Eyes Wide Shut with Dr Jason Ellis