Why is sleep so important?
Biologically/physically and mentally, our bodies need sleep. Anyone who has not had enough sleep may have experienced the following:
- Loss of appetite.
- Desperate hunger.
- Head ache.
- Fuzzy head.
- Unable to think clearly.
- Body aches.
- Low mood.
- Anxiety in certain situations.
- Physical illness.
The reasons why your sleep may be affected could be wide ranging (hangover, parenting, up all night working, anxiety, depression, psychosis).
Theories of sleep
Early theories understand sleep is a behavioural state where the body gives the brain a rest.
More up to date theories understand that sleep is not passive and in fact serves a number of functions.
Restorative Theory – to reorganise information and store memories. Trivial information is processed and removed from memory. There is also an idea that growth and repair are key during sleep.
Developmental Theory – Sleeping babies are developing in their brains and sensory systems.
Preservation Theory – To keep us safe from trouble (evolutionary perspective).
Psychoanaltyic Theory – sleep facilitate dreams. Dreams service a purpose in terms of processing your activities from the day or removing memories that are not required.
Why is sleep important?
Our bodies need to physically and mentally regenerate. Body cells repair while we sleep. Muscles restore and our brain revives. The theories above (there are many) highlight hormone imbalances with the lack of sleep, increased physical illness, increased cortisol (stress hormone), reduced concentration.
If you haven’t slept properly, you may have experienced:
- I do not feel as ‘strong’ as normal.
- There is more likelihood that I will give up/in to something you might have tried before.
- Engaging in ‘self care’ activities is harder when you have had less sleep.
Some sleep facts –
Most adults should sleep for 8-10 hours a day.
No adult sleeps without breaks of some description. Our sleep cycles are 90 minutes long, so those ‘I need a drink/toilet’ moments will likely happen in intervals when you are more ‘wakeable’.
Teenagers sleep more. Recent research shows they need later waking times. (www.sleepfoundation.org)
Babies sleep a lot – more hours than awake for quite a while.
Older people sleep less.
A common sleep problem I see in teenagers –
‘Reversed sleeping’, young people who have become nocturnal, sleeping in the day (maybe to block difficult things out) and awake at night. I would say most young people I see struggle with lack of good sleep and my advice to them is to find a good ‘sleep hygiene’ routine.
Good sleep hygiene –
- No caffeine after 2/3pm. Including fizzy drinks
- Homework/work to be done 2 hours before bed.
- Evening meal not just before bed. Evening meal to be nutritious!
- Minimise junk (sugar) after dinner.
- Screen time down time. No screen in bed.
- Relaxation smells/comforts in bed
- Bath/shower before bed if struggling
- Mindful body scan
- If you have a long list of worries, write them down to deal with the next day.
- Pick 1 or 2 a day to implement and increase once you’ve figured out what is most helpful.
Everyone has a different way of managing sleep. If you feel that you are struggling with sleep or something has happened to interrupt it (anxiety), have a look at what you can change. No big changes are needed, small changes can make a huge difference.