I think we can safely say most people will have experienced a bad night's sleep, particularly so over the past year, with rates of sleep loss sky rocketing and the stress of the pandemic leaving one in four of us struggling with insomnia. I know personally when I have a bad night's sleep it can leave me feeling dreadful, and when it continues for any length of time, it can feel as if you are wading through your day-to-day life in treacle with wellies on.
We know, particularly from Chinese medicine, that most systems of the body have an internal clock, a rhythm, and sleep is no different, with the master clock being in the brain, called the suprachiasmatic nucleus (SCN) which is in the hypothalamus. This part of the brain is heavily influenced by environmental cues, especially light, as to whether it is time for sleep or wakefulness, but others things effect it too like; exercise, social activity and temperature. When working well, the circadian rhythm can promote consistent and restorative sleep, but when it is out of kilter, it can lead to insomnia.
For me sorting out my own sleep issues whilst I had a chronic illness was a priority and much of it was relieved by recognising my natural sleep/wake cycle, my circadian rhythm or cycle. The circadian rhythm is a natural internal process that regulates the sleep-wake cycle and repeats roughly every 24 hours. For most people, the ideal cycle includes 7 to 9 hours sleep a night. Finding my own ideal time to go to bed and wake up was a game changer for me, and it is one that I keep to as much as possible. And that was really taking on board the sleep cycle.
A complete sleep cycle takes 90 to 110 minutes on average. There are 5 stages of sleep:
Stage 1 - Light sleep, can be easily awakened.
Stage 2 - Eye movement and brain waves slow down.
Stage 3 - Deep sleep. Delta waves begin to appear, body starts to repair itself.
Stage 4 - Deeper sleep. Difficult to wake up, energy is restored.
Stage 5 REM Sleep - Rapid Eye Movement. Breathing becomes irregular and dreaming occurs.
The first sleep cycles each night contain relatively short REM periods and long periods of deep sleep. As the night progresses, REM sleep periods increase in length while deep sleep decreases.
I remember first hearing the term 'Sleep Train' in my Sophrology Practitioner training. That to sleep well and deeply we need to catch the sleep train, by which I mean going to bed at the right stage of sleep, to go deeply into sleep. Knowing what time that is and sticking to it as much as possible can really help. Here are a few other tips to help you sleep better:
Go out into the sunshine, or day light, early in the day, this helps to reinforce the strongest circadian cue.
Once you have found your ideal sleep schedule, stick to it, as varying your bedtime or morning wake time can hinder your body's ability to stay within it's ideal circadian rhythm.
Take exercise daily, and do it in the morning if possible and outside which helps with tip number 1 too. I used to take a walk at work at lunchtime to get day light, even if only for 10 or 15 minutes, it all helps.
Prepare for sleep during the day - take up a meditation practice or do a relaxation technique, like using Sophrology which is both a meditation and relaxation practice, to help keep your mind calm and your body relaxed and ready to sleep well. Sometimes we race through our day and expect to sleep immediately our head hits the pillow, it just doesn't work like that.
Limit artificial light, particularly 'blue light' from screens, 1-2 hours before your bed time. If you need to be on a screen then wearing anti-blue light glasses, usually orange or yellow in colour can help.
Keep your bedroom for sleep and sex only, this helps to build an association with the bedroom for sleep.
Naps - I am a great believer in short naps or doing a relaxation in the afternoon, but be mindful of how long you nap for, keep it short.
Meal times - as well as going to bed at the same time and waking up at the same time, eating your meals at regular times will really help to keep your overall rhythm.
Sleep in darkness. Making sure your room is as dark as possible will help you to sleep better and stay asleep.
Bedroom temperature. Keep your bedroom fairly cool, the ideal temperature they say is about 17-18 degrees celsius.
I hope these tips help you. Please let me know how if you try any of the tips and how you get on. I will be writing a lot more about sleep as it is such an issue for many of us.
Wishing you a restful nights sleep.
With warm wishes,