Sleep – top tips for getting sufficient sleep
Are you sleeping well?
If you are not really attending to this essential bit of brain maintenance, you are increasing your risk of dementia, heart disease, high blood pressure, weight gain, diabetes and even cancer. Back in 2007, the World Health Organisation declared shift-work carcinogenic as the body never adjusts to reversing night and day.
Yet humans are the only mammal which actively and deliberately reduces their sleep to sub-healthy levels. Last week I presented a ‘Resilience’ webinar to a group of 60 lawyers. In the section where they used voting buttons the group reported that over 80% had not had five good night’s sleep in the past week. 10% were regularly sleeping less than five hours a night. So I was facing a group of highly intelligent professionals who were actively reducing their brain power and body functionality every day of the working week. They were operating in perpetual sleep deprivation. Recent research from Iowa State University has shown that sleeping only five hours a night increases irritability and anger – so look out their colleagues! Some insisted they caught up at the weekend. I am sorry my friends – that’s a myth. Sleep is lost forever.
So why, when we are more advanced than any society that has gone before us, are we actively doing something (sleep deprivation) which if taken to an extreme would kill us faster than starvation? I think the trouble is that many of the good things in life are the very things which mess up the essential support of a healthy life. Consider the following.
Coffee has become the modern day cuppa. We take it as normal to walk the streets to work with a large latte. Then pop out for caffeine kick at lunch-time and maybe an energy booster in the afternoon when we hit that three o’clock dip. Between the Americanos we sip on diet drinks full of caffeine. But do we think, when we savour the cappuccino, that our lovely drink will take at least eight hours to leave our body and for every hour we are processing it, our bodies are held back from the natural build-up of adenosine which naturally guides our brains towards slumber. So if you are the person who drinks the black stuff after midday, you are likely messing up your sleep.
Advice: One cup a day before 11.00 a.m. Drink water and low-caffeine drinks for the rest of the day.
A relaxing drink has become a natural part of the evening for many. Gone are the day when our parents bought a bottle of Mateus Rosé for a treat at the weekend! But that tipple is having a nasty impact on your shut-eye. Many people say a drink helps them sleep. True – it will help you drop off faster. But then the nasties start. Even moderate alcohol in your system disrupts the circadian rhythms of your body and then undermines the sleep architecture – that lovely rhythm of light, deep and REM sleep which is essential to clearing the build-up of proteins and chemicals out of our brain. So that gin and tonic which makes you feel relaxed will hit both your brain and your liver.
Advice: Go four days a week alcohol free.
We live in a world where travel has never been cheaper. But long-haul flights into a different time-zone impact your brain and your micro-biome. I have now been in a fog of jet-lag for five days. If you look at the research I should be approaching normality on Saturday as it takes one day to recover for every hour out of your normal time zone you went. As I was in Chicago and Massachusetts, I am calculating six nights of restless sleep and six days of brain-fog. Many years ago, I barely noticed the impact of a career which whizzed me round the world, zapping my sleep patterns and jetting me into a reversal of night and day. These days of older brain and body, it is truly vile. Again it is the effect on circadian rhythms - the natural sign wave of energy levels which flow through our sleeping and waking. Over time, significant circadian disruption leads to leaky gut which makes your body toxic.
Advice: Avoid alcohol and processed food on long-haul flights. Try to sleep as you fly and drink plenty of water. On arrival try to get into a regular sleep pattern – getting up and retiring at the same time to minimise sleep deprivation. Use mindfulness and magnesium to aid sleep in a different time zone.
Yes we love our phones, our iPads, our lap-tops, our health monitors, our Kindles – they give us lifestyle and connectivity 24 hours a day. They mean we can wake up in the night and instead of lying there is the misery of insomnia, we can do something fun, or useful or work. Our kids wake up and start their social media for the night. But what effect is this having on our brain? The second you look at that blue light (the light in all such technology) your body stops the production of melatonin – and that wakes you up. In effect, you trick your brain into thinking it is dawn and time to wake-up. The result is that your brain cannot complete its glymphatic drainage and all the proteins and chemicals which have built up over the day are left in your brain cells. The long term effect is depression, brain fog and now it has been linked to Alzheimer’s.
Advice: Turn off all technology at last an hour before bedtime. Keep it out of the bedroom. If you wake – do not turn it on. Read our Top tips for rapid Relaxation article beforehand instead so you can lull yourself back into slumber.
Finally, if you are having difficulty sleeping in general – take a look at our article on getting a good night’s sleep. Work on getting into good sleep habits. Do that and you will have a good chance of still reading Staying Sassy when you are 92!