January has been tough. I’ve been grieving for the loss of my Nan and on top of that we’ve all been ill, every single one of us. It’s the first time all four of us have been ill, all at the same time. I haven’t managed to shake a cold and cough. And then this week my gorgeous little girl caught a sickness bug. Sleep has been in very short supply.

Last night I managed a semi-good night’s sleep and after a month of sleepless nights I feel like a different person. It’s amazing what a good night’s sleep can do. Sleep is so important to our wellbeing. In fact the authors of ‘This book will make you sleep’ describe a lack of sleep as catastrophic! When you’re tired, everything can feel that little bit worse and sometimes much worse. You can feel less able to cope, you can become irritable and anxious, you can start doubting yourself, you can find it difficult to concentrate and the smallest of events can make you feel emotional.

Everything feels so much better after a good night’s sleep. That’s because it’s the time when the body repairs itself, not only that it processes all the information of your day and determines how you feel when you wake up. No wonder I’ve been grumpy this month!

How much sleep do you need?

This varies from person to person and in my experience depends on your circumstances. I need less sleep now that I have kids than I did before, or may be I’ve just got used to less sleep! And sleep needs tend to decrease with age, my little girl at 10 months old for example is sleeping between 12-16 hours in 24 hours. Whereas the average for adults sleeps between 7 and 8 hours.

Here are some tips to help you get that good night’s sleep. Although I haven’t quite yet found a solution for a waking 3 year old or 10 month old!

Make your bedroom your haven

Your bedroom should be for sleep and sex, and that’s it. It should be calm and peaceful to aid good sleep. Ideally remove electrical appliances that can interfere with sleep including the television (I’ve yet to win this battle with my other half!). Declutter and make sure the temperature is just right, too hot or too cold can both interfere with sleep.

Keep it dark

Melatonin is the hormone that promotes sleep and is regulated by night and day. When it gets dark melatonin is released and you feel tired. When it’s light our bodies produce less melatonin and this can interfere with your sleep pattern. Keep your bedroom dark and if you wake up in the night, avoid putting the light on. Make sure you have a clock that doesn’t omit too much light either. And finally looking at computer screens, iPads and phones can also interfere with melatonin production so avoid using your devices before bed.

Listen to your body clock

Everyone’s body clock is different. You may be a morning person or a night owl. Tune in to your own body clock. I like to be in bed before 10pm and whilst my family would laugh out loud if I said I was a morning person, I’m definitely more productive in the mornings. Work with your body clock.

Watch what you eat

The food you eat, how much you eat and when you eat can all effect your sleep. You want to avoid stimulating foods such as tea, coffee and chocolate near bedtime (and depending on your tolerance you may have to avoid them in the afternoon too). Eating too much will make you feel uncomfortable and your body will be trying to digest your food rather than sleeping. And finally you shouldn’t eat too late as again your body will be pre-occupied with digesting your food. Alcohol impacts the quality of your sleep and you’re likely to have a poorer night’s sleep.

Stop clock watching

Clock watching only leads to anxiety and stress, not conducive to getting that valuable sleep. I stopped clock watching about 3 years ago now and it’s made such a difference to how I sleep. I no longer spend time calculating how much sleep I’ll get if I fall asleep now, or in an hour. It can prevent unnecessary anxiety. If you’re anxious, you’re not going to sleep.

And finally learn how to relax

If you go to bed completely wired you’re not going to be able to fall asleep easily. It’s important to learn how to relax and unwind before you go to bed. You want to get your body into your rest and digest state, basically the opposite to the stress state most people experience during the day. It may be by having a bath, reading, practicing meditation, or simply doing some deep breathing exercises before bed. Make relaxing before bedtime part of your routine.

So this month in my zombie like state Jessica’s lived on nothing but Ella’s Kitchen pouches, me and my other half have relied on pizzas for a very quick and lazy meal most weeks. And Sam (my 3 year old) has watched way too much TV! But sometimes you just need to do whatever it takes just to get through. Here’s to more sleep in February!

Sources and references

Clayton P (2004) Health defence (2nd edition) Aylesbury: Accelerated Learning Systems Ltd

Gibbered J & Usmar J (2014) The book will make you sleep London: Quercus

Murray M & Pizzorno J (1998) Encyclopaedia of Natural Medicine (2nd edition) New York: Three Rivers Press

The material on this blog is provided for information only and must not be construed as medical advice or instruction. No action should be taken based solely on the contents of this publication; readers should consult appropriate health professionals on any matter relating to their health and wellbeing. The blog is intended as a sharing of knowledge and information from the research and experience of Nicky Duffell.

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