To sleep, perchance to dream

Like the weather, sleep seems to be discussed by everyone. People can be proud of how little sleep they need, some cheerfully sleep well, and some of us have difficulty finding or staying asleep. And how much sleep you need is very personal, but if you wake feeling refreshed, this probably isn’t the article for you!

A good night’s sleep is incredibly important for your health, and can affect everything from recovery from your concentration, to your hormones, risk of heart disease, strokes, and even depression.

If you’re in a state of perma-tired you may have considered having a study at a sleep clinic. The first advice they will give you however, regardless of what they find, is about sleep hygiene – no, not when you last washed your bedding, but more of a guide of how to program your body for sleep. It’s very similar to the advice new parents are given to encourage their baby to sleep: regular bedtime, no bluescreen for an hour before bed, turn the lighting down, warm bath, hot drink – all ways of letting the body know that this is the pattern it should follow for a good night sleep. Sleep hygiene set’s up a routine, a daily rhythm (and bodies love routine and rhythm), so the body realises that after x, y and z, it is time to sleep, this also helps encourage deeper sleep.

As many new parents find, the body doesn’t always “buy-in” to this as quickly as we’d like. It can take 8 weeks to retrain the body, and even then, other issues may prevent you from a good night’s sleep. Stress can be a major factor, it may wake you at 3am thinking about something that happened yesterday, last week or ten years ago. If you’ve had a stressful day, or you’re worried about something there are a few techniques that can help before bedtime; 5 mins of gentle stretching or exercise an hour or so before bed or a guided meditation (there are lots of these on you-tube, mountain meditation is particularly good if the world is against you); the technique I use when I’m stressed, normally about people, is to mentally walk them out of my head, down the stairs, out of my house, and back to wherever they’ve upset me, say to work, or school – say goodbye to them, and then mentally walk myself back home and into bed – after all, if I wouldn’t normally have them in my bedroom why would I have them in my head at night?

There are of course physical reasons that can affect your sleep, conditions such as narcolepsy (yes, you’d still be tired), sleep apnoea (there are several forms), and night terrors to name a few. Other factors affecting sleep can be increased urination (which can be associated with diabetes, or prostate change amongst other things), menopausal night sweats (if not menopause related, night sweats should be mentioned to your GP). Pain can also affect your ability to sleep, the simplest things that can help this are to check the age of your mattress, after 8 years most mattresses are past their best and won’t offer you the support they once gave. Pillows too don’t live forever – your choice of pillows is very personal, but generally if you sleep on your side, you’ll need a slightly deeper/thicker pillow than if you sleep on your back.

If despite all of this, sleep still eludes you then your GP may suggest a sleep study. If pain is what keeps you awake, or wakes you regularly, then you may find osteopathy helpful.

Sweet dreams!