Updated: Feb 15, 2021
We are told all the time that we need to sleep for between 7-8 hours, but what if, like me, you struggle to sleep?
I know the importance of sleep, it comes up daily in the health and wellness community and for good reason! Before I go into my story lets just highlight the reasons why sleep is so important:
The Impact of Sleep
Sleep can affect our weight management, people who have poor quality sleep often have a harder time losing weight. When we get quality sleep it allows our bodies to regulate ghrelin (the hunger hormone). Have you ever noticed that you are hungrier after a poor night's sleep and that you crave sugary carbohydrates? That is because your hormones are not properly able to regulate themselves. It always comes back to hormones! Studies have shown that children and adults are 89% and 55% more likely to develop obesity, respectively. (1)
Good sleep helps our brains to function properly. If we sleep well our brains are better able to problem solve and improve our memory. Whilst those that do not get enough quality sleep struggle to focus on every day's tasks and often find themselves getting easily distracted.
Sleep quality can also be linked to athletic performance, studies have been carried out that show well rested athletes are quicker, more accurate, have better recovery times and have improved mental well-being. (2)
Sleep can affect glucose levels adding a greater risk of type 2 diabetes. If we are not getting quality sleep it can affect our insulin resistance, again, back to the hormones.
Poor sleep is being linked to depression and anxiety. This becomes a vicious cycle, people struggle to sleep because of stressful situations which in turn worsens their mental health. If this is something that affects you, please seek medical advice.
Poor sleep is also linked to a weakened immune system, if you are prone to getting colds from the workplace or your children it could be that you are not getting sufficient sleep.
I only wanted to touch on the top issues that can arise from poor sleep. The trouble for me, and many other people, is that despite knowing the benefits of sleep, I am such a bad sleeper! From a really young age I struggled with sleep, often waking up in the night (sorry mum), I also find it extremely difficult to get off to sleep. I can easily lay tossing and turning for 30 minutes before I can settle into a sleep. Once I am asleep I never, ever, sleep through the night. I always get up once, on bad nights twice.
Waht's My Bedtime Routine?
Over the years I have tried many different techniques to get to sleep, I have tried sleep stories, making sure my feet are warm, journalling, yoga and yet nothing works long term. I am very good at having a bedtime routine, it currently goes like this.
1 - finish watching TV at about 9pm 2 - meditate for 10 minutes 3 - brush my teeth 4 - get into bed and read 5 - tell Matthew what made me happy that day, he does the same 6 - go for a wee 7 - put in my ear plugs and put on my eye mask 8 - get comfy!
Tricks to Help Drift Off to Sleep
Some nights I get to sleep without too much of a problem, others I still lie there thinking way too much. About a year ago I read about a technique that the marines use. I am going to describe what I do which is slightly different to what I read. First I get comfortable, I then count my breaths, one on the inhale, two on the exhale all the way to 10, I then count back down to one. I like this as it allows me to focus on the breath and try and stop my mind from thinking and wondering. If I still feel as though I am thinking too much I will do it again. After that I do a body scan, starting at my forehead I inhale, as I exhale I think 'I release tension from my forehead', I then move to my eyes and think 'I release tension from my eyes'. I do this the whole way down my body (forehead, eyes, cheeks, jaw, neck, right shoulder, right arm, right hand, then the same down the left side, my chest, torso, hips, right thigh, right calf, right foot, then the same down the left side). Usually I have fallen asleep by the time I reach my hips, if I have not I then think don't think, don't think, don't think. If you Google the Marine Sleep Technique you will find the real thing, I have just adapted it over time as it works for me.
The second issue I have is that I wake up every night, and I really do mean every night. Sometimes it's as early as 1, sometimes it's as late as 5. When I wake up I automatically got to the toilet. Usually I will check the time, but recently I have tried to avoid clock checking and just doing my best to go back to sleep, sometimes it works, sometimes the harder I try and tell myself I don't need the loo the more I need to go. Sometimes when I wake up closer to my alarm my brain just goes into overdrive. I compare it with turning on your phone after a day and all your notifications come through. Sometimes no matter what, I cannot help but think of everything that most certainly does not matter at 5am.
I have tried drinking less in the hours before bed, I still need a wee, I have tried herbal sleep remedies, no difference, I have tired bedtime teas and, while they are a pleasant extension to my bedtime routine, they don't seem to offer a lot. One product that does help me feel sleepier is the Lush Twilight Spray. I spray it onto my bed and pillows every other night (or as needed) and it's amazing, it's also a lot cheaper than the more common sleep spray brands.
So although we know the importance of sleep, it does not always mean that we are able to get it. New parents, night/shift workers, insomniacs, light sleepers. All we can do is try our best and ensure that we are going to bed at a reasonable hour and not staying up too late looking through social media or playing games! I am strongly against TV's and phones in the bedroom as it just creates an unhealthy atmosphere.