There is a reason that sleep deprivation is a form of torture.
Because not having any is actual torture.
It is however one of the most critical foundations to wellbeing and the elusive search for happiness.
One of the surprise packets of the Happiness and it’s Causes conference that I attended this year was the session on Sleep and Wellbeing by Dr Carmel Harrington. Her insights into the link between poor sleep, cardio vascular disease, obesity, wellbeing and depression were quite eye-opening and really rang true for me.
You can listen to Carmel here and also view her website - http://www.sleepforhealth.net.au/media.php
Essentially we as adults are not getting any where near enough sleep.
Nothing like it.
Sometimes it is almost like a competition to see who can get by on the least amount of sleep. It is rare that anyone legitimately is wired to get by on less than 6 hours a night. Those people do exist, but it is rare.
We need between 7-8 hours a night, enough for us to cycle through 5 standard sleep cycles. You know REM sleep , deep sleep etc. No matter how fast or slow our own particular cycles are, we must cycle through all of them to ensure that we get the full restorative benefits from completing those full cycles.
According to Dr Carmel’s research between 20-30% of the adult population have sleep problems of one kind or another - either finding it hard to fall asleep or if they do, finding it hard to stay asleep all night.
We can’t function correctly and we can’t learn effectively.
In a nutshell without proper sleep these 3 things can happen
- short term we are likely to succumb to more colds and flu type infections
- long term we are more likely to succumb to type 2 diabetes, obesity and to die younger than a well slept person
- But the most recently discovered issue on sleep problems is that we are more likely to suffer mentally as a result of poor sleep - ie we are more likely to suffer from mental health issues and chronic depression
I am a supposedly smart person and for some reason I had no idea that my lousy sleep patterns over years (and I mean years - like about 7) was actually contributing to making my depression much much worse.
We can be a little stupid at times. Stupid in that we don’t understand the signs and patterns that our bodies are screaming out for some attention,
I have spoken about sleep before or more correctly the lack of it and I don’t mean the sleep deprived baby and toddler stage. Whilst I can appreciate how zombie like that can be, I would much prefer being up with a crying baby than any of the scenarios I found myself in.
I mean the going to bed at 10pm and then waking at 1am and being awake until about 5.45 and then crashing again for about 1 hour. And this continuing each night for months at a time
I mean waking up at 1am in a manic state and then working through the rest of the night. This of course then meant I was completely wired at work the next day and a complete cow to all concerned,
I mean laying in bed playing endless rounds of solitaire and scrabble on my phone in a vain attempt to drop back off to sleep.
The common thread with all of these, is that I was completed fixated and stuck in the whirr in my head.
For years I just put up with this, only periodically relishing in the simple pleasure of head hitting the pillow and then the next minute it was morning - real morning.
I tried heaps of things
- Stupid games on my phone. Wrong - electronic devices like smartphones do not help sleep. In fact the blue screens are doing damage to our eyes and our sleep patterns
- Lavender on your pillow. OK this is up there with taking lavender to the hospital to help with labour. Whilst I am not adverse to essential oils, I cannot say that their application in the case of chronic sleep deprivation like in my case was actually helpful
- Sleep Remedies from the Chemist. I have tried most of these items. Things I had to have 30 mins before laying down, things I had to put under my tongue. Things I had to drink. None of these worked for me. None of them and I tried most of them
- Wine. This is not actually a tool I would recommend to get to sleep. I did however try this. ALOT
- Hot Milo/Hot Chocolate. Whilst I do like Milo/Hot Chocolate, this is is not something I would recommend long term as it kind of puts on weight, which can make you feel worse
- Staying up watching TV in an attempt to fall asleep. This is also not really a good idea, as what happens is that you do fall asleep on said lounge after watching stupid television, only to then go to bed when you wake up and then remain awake. I remember when my kids were little discouraging any kind of falling asleep in front of the TV, but rather encourage a good sleep pattern and when tired go to bed!
So in hindsight, what should I have been doing?
Well some of these things.
- A bath at night-time. We forget so many things, with all of my kids when they were babies I had a set routine to encourage them to become good sleepers. There was bath-time, bottle, quiet time with a story then bed. When they were pre-schoolers we had dinner-time, bath, quiet time/book and then bed. Why didn’t I do that for myself! The key to this one is routine.
- A book at night-time. Yep, seems so obvious, but reading a book, as opposed to reading a screen helps you to wind down. So what was I doing for 7 years, well not enjoying the rather pleasurable pastime of reading books. I spent instead an awful amount of time focussed on work stresses and again not taking care of myself so that I could be mentally on top of my game at said work during daylight hours.
- YOGA - any of the wind down movements. I am not sure why I was so frightened of doing this, or why I pooh poohed it. Now I find doing YOGA at nighttime so relaxing and “centering”. It allows me to take stock, be present and allow my body and mind to wind down. YogaGlo is awesome if you are struggling with sleep and could do with some wind-down tasks. I would highly recommend it, especially if you like me are quite uncoordinated and would prefer to “downward-dog” in the privacy of your loungeroom!
- Walking the DOG. My old favourite walking. In the evening, after dinner. Not a power walk to get up and sweaty, but a relaxing take in the day, meander around the neighbourhood kind of walk. Summer is magic as you can watch the sun go down..
- Meditation. Yep, get your hippy on. In all seriousness, meditation and mindfulness exercises work wonders for all manner of mental health related issues. Get an app, download it and get your Zen on. I use Smiling Mind - and it is great.
Of course, if I had had my wits about me, I possibly should have gone to the Doctor much much sooner. Perhaps rather than just prescribing some sleeping tablets, he would have seen a person in need of something more.
I urge you if you are in a pattern of not sleeping to see your doctor, don’t put up with it.
So even though I am on medication, I am very conscious of the need to sleep well. I am still not quite used to sleeping all night, I think I am still in the novelty phase. When I wake after sleeping all night I just pause and marvel at how amazing it is to have slept all night long.