Do you find you are not sleeping as soundly as you used to? The other night I managed 7 hours unbroken sleep and I cannot tell you how good it felt. I woke up a different person. That may not seem to be a huge deal, but if your norm is disturbed sleep and early waking, to wake after 7 hours of unbroken sleep is a real treat. Research is pointing to increasing numbers of people struggling with sleep issues as they age.
Needing less sleep as we age is a myth. We ALL need a good 7-8 hours a night. Scientists now say that your body uses the time spent in deep sleep to regenerate and repair your cells. And it is said we make use of dream sleep to sort out our lives. I know that when I have that dream about running, but my feet are stuck and not moving; when I look deeper, I usually find an aspect of my life where I am stuck or unable to move forward!
The long term effects of poor sleep or chronic insomnia are not pleasant. Apart from the inability to think clearly after a bad night, scientists claim that over the long term, sleeping less than six or seven hours a night plays havoc with your immune system, raises the risk of Alzheimer’s, and the likelihood of cardiovascular disease, stroke, and congestive heart failure, causes weight gain, and can even shorten your lifespan.
If we are all on the same page about needing sleep, let’s get to what stops us from sleeping. I will unpack them here.
- Worries. Most of us have these at some stage. Keeping a ‘gratitude journal’ to write down at least 3 things you are grateful for before you go to sleep, can help to focus your mind on what you have, rather than what you don’t have. Alternatively, if you have difficulty falling asleep, a light novel or even meditation can help to calm the mind. In the days before the drought hit Cape Town, I also found a hot bath helped.
- TV, cell phone and computer all emit a brain-stimulating blue light. How many of you check your messages as you turn in? The experts say we should switch off ALL devices AT LEAST one hour before sleep. There are apps that reduce the blue light on your phone or computer if you absolutely have to.
- Digital devices in your bedroom. All hardware continues to radiate electromagnetic frequencies even when not in use. Add the digital clock/radio to this list. It is best to make sure your bedroom, at least, is clear of all such devices
- Wi-fi routers emit Electro Magnetic Frequency radiation (EMF’s) that are said to be harmful to our brains, especially when sleeping. I know we cannot switch off all wi-fi in our neighbourhood, but we can reduce emissions by switching off our own routers when we go to bed.
- Cut out the heavy dinner at night and keep to a light snack. When you are working, it is not always convenient to eat your biggest meal at lunchtime, but the earlier you eat and the lighter you eat, the better you will sleep. It is not great for my social life, but I find the older I get, the more difficult it is to sleep peacefully on a full stomach. There are also certain foods that make it harder to sleep, such as protein, which takes time to digest. So, cut the meat, eggs, cheese etc. Alcohol is also a stimulant! Most of us know that caffeine is a no-no, but do we realise that things like coca cola and chocolate are also full of caffeine, not just coffee?
- Check the prescription and over the counter drugs that you are taking, sometimes they have insomnia as a side-effect. Difficult to check, but sometimes the interplay of the drugs with each other can result in insomnia.
Whether it is difficulty falling asleep or difficulty staying asleep, getting to the root cause is the best way to deal with your insomnia. The solution is not to treat the symptoms with sleep-inducing drugs as most of them are addictive. In some cases, there is a fall-off in your body’s production of melatonin which switches your brain off for the night, but you will need to ask your doctor for a prescription. If you still have a problem it might be a good idea to visit a sleep clinic, as maybe you have a sleep apnoea (when your breathing stops) which can be remedied with intervention.
Start with checking each of the 6 points above and testing them in your own life. Note, I didn’t say this is the easier route. I struggle to spend every evening at home without television or laptop and remembering not to eat proteins with my dinner. It is quite a handful, but we should take it one step at a time. This is the week I am going to get a timer to switch off my wi-fi router while I sleep.
What remedies have you found that have helped? Can you share them here?