One thing I am not very good at is sleeping. I’m not very good at sewing either, but that’s for another time.
Since losing my marbles in 2006, (holy crap, that was ten years ago!) sleep has escaped me on a regular basis. It was, in fact, the straw that broke the camel’s back and made me admit defeat and that I wasn’t well. I nearly had an accident on the way home from work in heavy traffic because I was nodding off at the wheel.
As any insomniac or parent is sure to agree, sleep deprivation is not funny. I’m not talking about a few sleepless nights, I’m talking about prolonged periods of less than four hours a night. As you drag you leaden carcass out of bed morning after morning, your surroundings gradually become muted; you don’t hear or see with clarity anymore and concentration spans drop to zero. That’s when it gets dangerous. There are obvious side-effects of sleep deprivation (yawning, bags under your eyes you could carry shopping in) but it’s the more subtle signs that you need to watch out for that might indicate a lack of sleep is becoming a real problem.
When my insomnia was at its worst, I was sleeping less than three hours a night and that was happening four and five nights a week, for months on end. Besides nearly totalling myself in the car, I noticed odd little things. Cuts and bruises seemed to take forever to heal. I began to lose the ability to do simple mental arithmetic. I started questioning whether I’d completed everyday tasks, or just thought about doing them. Or did I dream them?
These things happened because during deep, quality sleep, the body repairs itself. This is the most efficient time to do it since everything else is in a resting phase. All the little cells and antibodies have more energy to zoom about while we snooze. As the body does this, our brains are busy sorting out or mental ‘filing cabinet’ – it processes the days events, thoughts, and feelings and puts them in an appropriate place. This is sometimes why, if a stressful event is worrying us, it keeps us awake – we are preventing our brains from ‘filing’ it because we keep thinking about it. It’s also why we often dream (in the lighter phase of sleep) about things that have happened recently, although not necessarily in a sensible way. My body wasn’t getting a chance to do any of that.
Nowadays, although I don’t suffer as badly, I still have episodes of poor sleep. I am by nature a six-hour sleeper anyway (probably just as well, isn’t it?) so don’t require a massive amount of time in bed, but when that drops below four hours for more than a week, things get ugly. I do my best not to worry about it, because generally that makes it worse. It’s been going on long enough now that I know it will pass.
So why am I banging on about all this?
Without the basic functions I’ve mentioned, keeping yourself mentally and physically healthy is very, very difficult. A lack of sleep nurtures poor diet (the old ‘can’t be arsed’ syndrome) zaps motivation and makes us look like crap. It is so easy to slip into a horrible, destructive pattern when sleep is escaping you. So take extra-special time to look after yourself if you aren’t getting all the z’s you need.
When you are sleeping well, it makes such a difference. Firing on all cylinders and being well-rested are the most beneficial things you can do for your wellbeing. Motivation levels are higher, skin is brighter, we have more energy to work, play, exercise. Brain function is tip-top and life in general feels less stressful because you are in a mindset to handle things.
So what can you do to keep yourself well rested? Here are some of the things that have helped me over the years:
- Listen to your body. Do you know how much sleep you actually need on a regular basis? Everybody is different, so be mindful of how long you actually enjoy peaceful, restful sleep. I’m good on six, my partner needs a solid nine to feel refreshed in the mornings.
- Bed-head. Are you comfortable in bed? If you share a bed, do you have enough room to move comfortably? Replace mattresses and bedclothes regularly and find a pillow with a firmness that suits (Apparently, you should only sleep with one pillow.) Most large bed outlets can help you with this.
- Sort your surroundings: Is the bedroom a nice place to be? Do you feel relaxed in your room? The correct temperature and lighting will be a big help here. Keep the room ventilated and dust-free for maximum sleep success.
- Get a routine. We are creatures of habit. By having a bedtime routine, we are nudging our brains into ‘sleepy time’. Try and go to bed at roughly the same time every night, after following a pattern of ‘get a drink, brush teeth, comb hair, whatever’ – you get the picture.
The benefits of good quality sleep are endless. In an increasingly busy world, I feel it is very important to look after the basics . If I want to keep improving myself as a person, inside and out, I need to have all the oomph I can get.