As part of HuffPost UK Lifestyle's Say No To January campaign, we present the first of four extracts from a new series of This Book Will Make You...
Snoozing, slumber, forty winks, shuteye – whatever you call it, sleep is an integral part of all our lives. You can’t choose to stop needing sleep, just like you can’t choose to stop breathing. It’s a function that our bodies perform automatically, which means not being able to drop off can be frightening, frustrating and completely exhausting.
We spend about a third of our lives asleep on average, or at least we’re supposed to if all goes according to plan. However, when you’re lying in bed counting down the hours until your damn alarm goes off, the helplessness you feel can become overwhelming and it can start affecting your day-to-day life.
We have to sleep to survive – you’re not just conked out, your body is going through extraordinary psychological and physiological processes. In fact, you can actually survive better without food than you can without sleep.
The harder your body and brain works during the day the more you need to rest, which is why the consequences of sleep deprivation can be dramatic. In spite of all this, it’s harder than ever to switch off in the modern world. After a day at work we come home to TV, the internet and a flurry of Facebook notifications, Tweets and more emails (work and personal).
The good news is that while you can’t force sleep, there are loads of things you can do to encourage it. This book aims to give you the means to kick-start positive resting patterns, whether your sleep’s been messed up for a night, a week, a month or a year. Below are a couple of strategies you can try to encourage better sleep.
Stop clock watching. Counting down the hours you have left to sleep – ‘I’ll get three hours if I fall asleep now’ – is one of the loneliest and most panic-inducing things you can do. You’ll start punishing yourself for not having fallen asleep yet, leading to anxiety about how you’ll cope the next day.
Clock-watching actively keeps you awake as your brain is primed to assess how long you’ve been asleep. You’ll suddenly jerk awake thinking, ‘Was I asleep?’ and then chastise yourself for waking up when you realise you actually were. Turn your clock around and don’t look at it. Looking isn’t going to solve anything, it’s only going to aggravate your anxiety. If you do wake up knowing it’s late (or very early as the case maybe), tell yourself it’s 2a.m. Your brain will accept this hour without panicking because although it’s late, you’ll still be able to get a few hours of sleep before having to get up.
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Accept things aren’t black and white when it comes to snoozing. Thoughts like “I had a great night’s sleep!” versus “I had a terrible night’s sleep” and “I feel amazing because I slept well” versus “I feel hideous because I slept badly” will affect your life immeasurably.
Our bodies are programmed to get us through the day as best they can – a good or bad night’s sleep doesn’t directly correlate to a good or bad day – you’ll have good days when you’re tired and bad days when you’re not. That’s life. Don’t let sleep dictate your mood. Yes, you slept badly, but you can still choose to try and have a good day!
Log-off an hour before bed. Sleep is prompted by the secretion of the hormone melatonin which increases naturally when it’s dark. Blue light - the kind emitted by standard light bulbs and computer screens - will actively inhibit melatonin production as the body will still think it’s daytime. Ban any and all technology at least an hour before bed to give both your body and mind time to wind down.
Stop napping. Napping causes more problems than it solves. It makes it harder to fall asleep at night and you’re more likely to wake up sporadically.
Not only are you lessening your natural drive for sleep, but if you nod off on your sofa you’re weakening the important association with your bed and sleep. And, if you nap regularly, you’ll be conditioning your body to expect a nap each day, so if for any reason you can’t snatch forty winks you’ll feel even more tired and sluggish. It’s like jet lag – you have to ride out the tiredness until you can go to bed at a reasonable hour and then you’ll be more likely to sleep through the night.
This Book Will Make You Sleep by Dr Jessamy Hibberd and Jo Usmar (published by Quercus Publishing), £7.99
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