The sleep thief

Sleep is a wonderful thing *long pause* when we can get it. We do not just like sleep, we need sleep in order to function to our full potential. Sleep, along with good nutrition and exercise is one of the three pillars of health.

The time when asleep is the time lots of magic happens in our body such as rebuilding of cells, reducing inflammation and balancing hormones. It is important to get at least 7 hours sleep if not 8 for the body and mind to ‘reboot’ and to feel really rested. A feeling which I have forgotten. I am sure I speak for us all when I say, ‘I love sleep’. I love to climb into bed at the end of the day and snuggle down under the fluffy duvet letting my head sink into the pillow, a deep breath in, exhale and sigh of relief, eyes closed and relax. I can feel the effect of the day’s intensity on my body as the blood is pulsing round my vessels and now it feels good to be laid still and snug. What feels like 2 minutes in, (it is more like an hour) child number 2 is awake and crying ‘mamma’ for me. Up like a bolt of lightning before child number 1 wakes up, my heart is now racing, and I am wide awake. 2 hours later I am still cradling child number 2, we have sung rhymes, I have told him a story, he has had a drink, a clean nappy, sometimes a snack, Calpol if teething or has a fever but still he is gripping tightly round my neck and twiddling my hair at the back whilst snuggled into the crook of my neck. I can feel when he is going off but as soon as I lay him down, BOOM he scrambles back up my arm and starts to cry for ‘Mamma’ again. In our house, we go through peaks and troughs of good sleep. This is a snippet of what was at one time, a regular nightly occurrence and happened up to 4 times a night *Cue violin*

Three Pillars of Health

This does not happen as often now, but it does still happen. Sometimes it’s our dog whining through the night to go out, which of course I would much rather happen than be greeted by a mess in the morning, other times it can be child number 2 feeling unwell and I lay awake with worry, or child number 3 AKA my husband, snoring or stress, whatever it is, it all results in one thing and that is disturbed and broken sleep. Some people may be fine with less sleep but for me, 8 hours is a must if I am to feel functional in the morning, 7 at the least. Any less and my concentration wanes, I may be quiet due to low mood ( and trying to concentrate), I can’t think straight or recall information appropriately, inside I feel like an emotional wreck but on the outside I am trying my hardest to look bright, alert and happy. Yawning kicks in around 10 am – here comes my second coffee hit of the day and by 2 pm I have hit a wall, want to eat everything in sight and often I feel ill with headache. Sound familiar anyone?

Ok, I realise this is my story and not the reason you may not be able to sleep. Sleep depravity can be the result of many things. Worry, stress, feeling anxious, illness, medication and so on but there are common factors we can all do to try and aid a better, (I will not go as far as saying good) night’s sleep, so let’s take a look at what really matters.

What can we do?

Reduce caffeine or avoid completely – Try to limit caffeinated drinks and drink them before 2 pm. Caffeine has been suggested to stay in the body for up to 8 hours so limiting consumption will allow a 10 o’ clock bedtime. Ask yourself, Do I really need this coffee/Tea? Try opting for non-caffeinated drinks like fruit teas or water or simply start reducing the amount of caffeine drunk, this includes fizzy drinks containing caffeine too!

Alcohol – For many, alcohol is seen as a sleep aid and where it may help you to switch off from the real word it does not support a good night’s rest. Remember earlier when I said about the magic happening whilst asleep? Well alcohol will interfere with this magic and you will likely wake feeling fuzzy and lethargic. I am not saying do not enjoy a glass to relax but maybe evaluate whether that second glass is worth the headache in the morning.

Turn off technology – Television, iPad/tablets, mobile phones are all stimulants. Turning devices off an hour or more before bed may help to calm the mind. Once you start looking at social media, it can be hard to stop. You get sucked into the scrolling vortex and cannot get out and before you know, it is nearly 11 pm and your still sat in the same position you were an hour a go. You have not learnt anything, you have not discovered anything new, you have just been sat reading what next door has had for their tea and watching the latest TikTok craze. I use a bedtime reminder that then automatically switches my phone to ‘Do not disturb’, at 8 pm I am asked if I am going to bed or would I like reminding in 5 minutes. Providing the children are both sound asleep, I climb into bed and read for an hour undisturbed. Bliss!

Exercise – Gentle exercise releases ‘feel good endorphins’ and who does not like to feel good. Regular exercise boosts mood can improve confidence and self-esteem and can make you feel more motivated. Exercise and training can be hard to commit to regularly but once you have, you will reap the rewards so do not give up. Choose what you enjoy at a time that works for you and get going. 30 mins of moderate exercise 3 x per week is a good start and why not get the family involved. Go for a walk, get out on your bikes, take part in the local park run. Exercise releases adrenaline so exercising later in the evening may be better avoided in order to feel calm and relaxed.

Read a book – A good old fashioned hard back book. Something of interest but that does not stimulate the mind too much. A chapter in and I am normally struggling to keep my eyelids from dropping.

Meditation and deep breathing – There are many apps that you can now access to help with meditation that are free. Do your research and find one that suits your needs. Yes, I know I said no devices, but you are allowed just for this. I use the Calm app or sometimes listen to calming music in the dark.

Have a good mattress and pillow– You spend up to one third of your life asleep, so a good mattress is essential to reduce aches and pains and a suitable pillow to promote good posture and aid comfort.

I have found all or some of the above to have worked for me at different times and I find that planning the evening and sticking to a rough time schedule works with a young family. To sum up, sleep is non-negotiable. We all need sleep for optimum health both mentally and physically. I hope, if nothing else you can apply 1 or 2 of the suggestions made and finally get a better night’s rest.

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