Physical Need 4 - Sleep

A 2005 survey carried out by the National Sleep Foundation revealed how serious and widespread a problem sleep deprivation is. About 40% of people get fewer than 7 hours sleep on weekdays, 70% get fewer than 8 hours. Sleep deprivation is a way of life for most people. Those most likely to be at risk, include commuters, those who work long hours and/or spend a long time in their car, parents with small children and insomniacs. Here’s a taste of just some of the detailed research linking sleep deprivation to ill-health and even death.

Sleep deprivation, which is an acute or chronic lack of sufficient restorative sleep, puts you at a higher risk of developing heart disease and cancer, but it’s also been shown to promote weight gain, exacerbate and trigger depression and anxiety, reduce immune function and increase the likelihood of accidents. Sleep deprivation also puts you at much higher risk of making poor health choices and life decisions. For example, one study found that 80 per cent of women managed to fight through the day-time tiredness associated with sleep deprivation by drinking caffeine-rich drinks, with one-third admitting they consumed three or more such drinks every day in an attempt to escape their exhaustion. Half of the women confessed that they will sacrifice exercise and, in addition, more than one-third said they also reduce the amount of time spent with friends and family, stop eating healthily and don’t participate in sexual activity when feeling tired. Sleep deprivation affects every level and aspect of your life.


Tips for Improving Your Sleep


  • Identify and address the cause of your sleep problem. For example, is it related to stress, your hormones, your inability to fully relax before bed or your physical environment? Wherever possible take action to address those causes, for example you might want to use blackout blinds in your room to keep it dark, try a stress reduction approach prior to bed or get your partner to sleep in a separate room if they disturb you!
  • Avoid stimulants and stimulating experiences. If you have problems with your sleep you might want try cutting out all caffeine during the day (or at least not having any after 16.00) and reducing your intake of sugar especially in the hours leading up to bedtime. Nicotine is also stimulating – if you are a smoker, try avoiding smoking prior to bedtime. Potentially stimulating experiences such as TV, work, e-mails, being on the internet should also be avoided for at least 3 hours prior to bed-time. If you have a TV in your room I highly recommend you take it out - keep your room for sleep and sex!
  • Avoid medications that interfere with sleep. The main ones are cough and cold remedies that contain phenylephrine and pseudoephrine, pain killers and tablets containing caffeine, steroids, stimulants such as Ritalin and antihistamines. I would also really encourage you to stay clear from benzodiazepines (sleeping tablets). Whilst they do work and do help, in the longer term they can lead to dependency. My advice would be to use these only after trying the rest of my recommendations
  • Get physical. You should be aiming for about 30 minutes of physical activity on most days, this helps to discharge stress and tension. Avoid exercising in the evening as this can be stimulating.
  • Avoid eating heavy meals. If you eat just before you go to bed your body will be busy digesting and won’t want to go to sleep, so leave a gap of at least two hours between a meal and bed.
  • Avoid or limit alcohol. While many insomniacs use alcohol to help them sleep, research shows that alcohol consumption prior to bed results in multiple awakenings, shallow sleep, a reduction in sleep time and a reduction in the overall quality of sleep. If you have problems with sleep my advice is to stay clear of it.
  • Take a natural sleep remedy. The ones that I use most often with my clients are valerian (follow manufacturer’s instructions), magnesium (400mg to 500mg) or 5-HTP (100mg to 200mg) at bedtime. Magnesium is particularly helpful if you have restless legs syndrome and 5-HTP is good if you have symptoms of depression or widespread muscular pain.
  • Take Vitamin B6. If you regularly have trouble sleeping just prior to your period, try taking vitamin B6 (100mg at bedtime). This helps to make the calming brain chemical serotonin. Take this with an additional B vitamin complex.
  • Try listening to a guided imagery CD. Many of clients with insomnia find listening to a guided imagery insomnia CD prior to going to sleep to be very helpful. See Resources for details.
  • Watch the temperature of your room. Keep a slightly cool temperature in the room, as this will help you get to sleep and achieve a deeper level of sleep: 18-21°C (65-70°F) is the ideal temperature.
  • Relax your body. Remember your mind and body is intimately connected so relaxing your body can really help to calm your mind prior to bedtime. Try having a hot relaxing bath (with aromatherapy or alkaline mineral salts) and/or going to bed with a hot water bottle. I would stay clear of heated blankets as they have the potential to interfere with the electromagnetic balance of the body
  • Off-load your stress and worries. If you have things on your mind, try off-loading them into a journal, talking about them or trying a relaxation technique
  • Establish a good sleep routine. Use everything you have learnt to far to establish a good sleeping pattern. Try and get to sleep by 22.00 to 22.30 and aim for about 8 hours of sleep on most nights – this is enough for most people.
  • Create a negative association to waking up. If you are still awake after 20 minutes of attempting to sleep, get up and do something that you really don’t enjoy doing, such as cleaning. This sets up a negative conditioning pattern that associates not sleeping with discomfort. By doing this you are training the brain to help you get to sleep. This method works really well for a lot of people.
  • Seek professional help. If you have insomnia that doesn’t respond to the above measures or you experience excessive daytime sleepiness, abrupt awakening during the night accompanied by shortness of breath, a morning headache, or you wake up with a dry mouth or sore throat, then I encourage you to seek the help of a sleep specialist. The latter are symptoms of a serious sleep disorder called sleep apnoea.

Now move onto Physical Need 5 - Rest

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