Many of my clients tell me that they struggle to get to sleep, and it is having a major impact on their health and wellbeing. So, I thought I would do some research into the causes and solutions to this problem, and share my findings. A lot of the information below is based on a documentary that was shown recently by the BBC called “The Truth About Sleep”. I highly recommend you watch it if you suffer from a lack of sleep or Insomnia.
The British sleep council say that UK is one of the most sleep deprived countries in the world with 70% of us feeling like we are not getting enough.
According to experts the amount of sleep we have been getting has decreased by an average of 1 to 2 hours over the last 50 years, and not only are we getting less sleep but the quality of the sleep we are getting has also deteriorated. A survey by the mental health foundation shows that up to a third of us suffer from insomnia, which means that either we struggle to get to sleep, or have difficulty staying asleep throughout the night.
What are the causes?
It is recommended that adults should be aiming for around 7 to 8 hours of sleep per night, but 40% of the UK population say that they are getting less than 6 hours a night…So what are some of the common causes of sleep deprivation?
- Jobs that require shift work
- A snoring partner
- Sleep disorders
The Sleep Cycle
Stage 1 – Drifting in and out of consciousness
Stage 2 – Brain waves slow down
Stage 3 – Deep Sleep
(You go back to stage 2 briefly).
Stage 4 – R.E.M sleep (dream)
This cycle takes about 90 mins and it should be repeated about 5 to 6 time per night.
Why is sleep important?
It allows our brains to recover and de-stress. Toxins and waste in the brain are cleared, we process information, and form new memories. But it isn’t only our brain that needs sleep – our body also need rest and relaxation from the activity of the day, and when we aren’t getting enough for long periods of time we begin to experience all kinds of physical and mental problems.
For more information about the benefits of Sleep visit this link
What are the long-term risks of sleep deprivation?
- Memory loss or lapses
- Problems with cognitive performance.
- Impaired Judgement
- Decreased reaction times
- Aches & pain in the body.
- Weakened Immune system
- Increased production of the stress hormone cortisol – this impacts your mood and increases anxiety.
But there are some bigger risks that you may not have been aware of…
Leeds University did an interesting study in which they monitored the glucose levels in people to see how they changed when they slept normally and then when they were deprived of sleep. It turns out that when the people taking part in the study were deprived of sleep their glucose levels spiked dramatically. This is because the body boosted the glucose levels to keep them going through the day, and to sustain this heightened level it made them crave additional sugar and carbohydrates. The body isn’t designed to run at these levels for long periods of time, and if this pattern continues it can lead to type 2 diabetes.
Another discovery was that when you are deprived of sleep it affects the hormones that regulate appetite and hunger – your body produces more of the hormones that tell you when you are hungry, and less of the ones that tell you when you are full. This raises the risk of obesity because people eat a lot more than they would if they were getting a good night’s sleep.
A lack of sleep also has a big effect on your gut bacteria, and we are starting to understand how important this is in terms of having a healthy mind and body. Gut bacteria are important because they help us absorb nutrients and act as a barrier against infection that enters our bodies. In other words they help us maintain our metabolism and a healthy immune system. When we are sleep deprived it causes the bacteria to increase energy intake, which means our gut becomes over active and absorbs more calories from the food we eat to keep us going. This means weight gain and increases the risk of heart problems and obesity.
Nature or Nurture?
Scientific studies of DNA show that being a morning or night person is related to genes, and this study also seems to suggest that the amount of sleep that we need will also be pre-determined by our genetics. They go on to say that some people are more susceptible to sleep disorders than others, and others are more sensitive to stimulants like caffeine. So, it might not only be your life style that is causing the problem.
So what is the solution?
In 2016 the NHS spent over 15 million pounds treating insomnia. Here are some of the things people are using to solve the problem.
Vitamin D -In a recent two year study scientist noticed that parts of the brain that had important vitamin D receptors were also related to our sleep. So they concluded that a lack of vitamin D could be a cause of sleep deprivation, and therefore taking a vitamin D supplement or getting more sun may help you sleep better.
Sleeping Pills – They certainly work, but they are addictive and like most drugs your body builds a tolerance which makes them less effective over time. This means you have to take more and more, and eventually you reach a point where they stop working. They can also become dangerous in high doses, so it is better to deal with the causes of insomnia rather than opting for a quick fix.
The Body Clock – Some Neuroscientists believe that the answer lies in the part of your brain (the hypothalamus) that maintains your body clock. It sends out signals to the rest of the cells in your body which tells them important messages like when to eat, and sleep. When your mind and body are in sync everything runs smoothly. But when you start messing with your routine like when you fly to a different time zone, you experience problems like jetlag. This is another way of saying that your body is out of sync with the master clock on your brain. By sticking to a regular sleep pattern e.g. going to bed at the same time (even at the weekend), you will find that you will get a better night’s sleep.
Room Temperature – Make sure your bedroom is an ideal temperature for sleep (an average of 17 degrees).
Mindfulness – Mediation and other exercises that calm the body and quieten the mind (for more details check out my blog “What is Mindfulness”)
Essential Oil – Lavender or bergamot oil either on your pillow or through an essential oil diffuser.
Hot shower/bath followed by rapid cooling – this makes the body think it’s time to sleep.
Exercise – Exercising in the morning especially outside will wake the body up, as it resets the body clock. Exercising in the afternoon/evening gets rid of stress and helps you wind down, which will help you
Things to avoid!
Technology – The light from your phones, laptops, and tablets are messing with your body clock. So don’t have them in the bedroom, and stop using them at least an hour before you go to sleep.
Clocks – If you are going to have a clock next to your bed have it turned away from you. This is because if you are struggling to get to sleep looking at it will only stress you out, and keep you awake longer.
Alcohol – Some people drink to help them sleep, but tests have shown that it actually has the opposite effect. when we drink more than a few units of alcohol our sleep is disrupted, and the quality is poor. It also causes snoring by relaxing the muscles in your throat, which might keep your partner awake.
Caffeine – Cutting back on drinks like tea/coffee after midday, especially if you are particularly sensitive to the effects of caffeine.
Spicy or fatty foods – These are harder to digest and can cause acid reflux if you don’t leave at least two hours before you lie down.
Smoke – Nicotine is a stimulant and like caffeine it will keep you awake.
The two most interesting discoveries from the BBC documentary were that we could solve the problem of insomnia through diet.
Kiwi fruit – Researchers at Taiwan’s Taipei Medical University studied the effects of kiwi consumption on sleep. They found that eating kiwi on a daily basis was linked to substantial improvements to both sleep quality and sleep quantity. This is because they are rich in fibre, potassium, and vitamin C. Therefore, they have high antioxidant and serotonin levels, which the researchers claim improves the quality of our sleep. So try eating two before you go to bed for a week and see if you notice a difference.
Prebiotics –. These are a form of dietary fibre that act as a fertiliser for your good gut bacteria, (not to be confused with probiotics which are actual live bacteria). By introducing this fibre into your body your gut bacteria breaks it down which creates short chain fatty acids which send beneficial molecules to the brain, and this seems to significantly improve the quality of sleep in tests – You will find these prebiotics in foods like Chickpeas, Red lentils, and beans like butter beans…But using a supplement will be more effective as the concentration will be a lot stronger.
For more natural ways to improve your sleep click the following link.
We all lead busy lives but we have to start taking sleep deprivation seriously, or it could lead to serious consequences in later life. There isn’t one answer to the problem, like everything in life it’s about finding a healthy balance in your diet, life style, and learning how to manage your stress effectively. I hope you have found this article helpful, as ever if you would like coaching for any of the areas mentioned above please get in touch.
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