Why can't I get a good nights sleep?

health

sleep science

They used to say sleep is for the weak, but we know that sleep is what keeps us strong and healthy; when you can't get enough this becomes very clear, but why can we sometimes struggle to sleep?

Toby Richards

Sleep is often considered a waste of time and as a consequence we prioritise other activities over a good night's sleep. But this can be counterproductive; sleep is important because...

Growth hormone production increases during sleep (this is when kids get taller, our skin cells regenerate, and our hair gets longer), as well as the hormones that regulate appetite. Sleep is also when our muscles repair damage from throughout the day.

Sleep also plays an integral role in regulating the immune system, which is responsible for fighting off all sorts of problems from the common cold to more serious chronic problems like cancer. (Research suggests that the body produces fewer infection-fighting antibodies when sleep deprived.) Studies have shown that you're more likely to catch a cold when you’re sleep deprived and that vaccines can be less effective after a poor night of sleep.

So how do you improve your chances of getting a good night's sleep. Here are some common mistakes we all make...

Poor preparation for sleep

One of the most common mistakes people make is thinking that as soon as you get into bed your body will simply switch off and you'll fall asleep. This just isn't the case. Falling asleep is quite a complex activity affecting brain wave activity, heart rate, breathing, body temperature and more.

Think about putting a child to bed, the routine of maybe having a bath, a warm drink, a bedtime story help set them up for a good night's sleep. We forget about that when we're all grown up and just jump into bed and hope to fall asleep.

Consider creating an environment that cues your body to sleep such as reading, listening to music, taking a bath or warm shower. Even if it’s just taking a few minutes to sit in the dark, doing nothing, to quieten and calm your mind and of course wrap yourself in a cosy Sommio weighted blanket.

Thinking you can catch up on the weekend

If you're a poor sleeper during the week, don't think you can make it up by having a lie in on the weekend, it doesn't work like that. Your body will let you make up enough sleep just to feel better, but it's not like a battery that will hold a charge. You'll feel ok the next day, but it won't eek out the charge over the week.

Studies have shown that being chronically sleep deprived has links to some pretty serious health issues such a diabetes, heart disease, memory loss and weight gain.

Keeping it hot

Part of falling asleep is a decrease in your body temperature, so keeping your bedroom temperature cool helps this happen faster.

Ideally you want to keep the temperature in your bedroom a chilly 15 to 19 degrees Celsius. Having the window open to let in a bit of fresh air is also helpful.

The unique design of the Sommio weighted blanket ensures you do not overheat, unlike many other weighted blankets available on the market, our is not filled with beads or padded with polyester, both of which make you hot.

Electronics in the bedroom

Mobile phones, laptops, TVs, tablets and other electronics are definitely a no no at bedtime. The bedroom should be somewhere that we associate with sleep. Where possible, you should try to remove distractions from you bedroom. It is better to watch TV, play computer games and eat in another room.

Studies show that the bright blue and white light waves that radiate from electronic devices throw our body’s internal clock off kilter. Our brain confuses this type of light to that from the sun, and signals to the body to stay awake by suppressing the release of melatonin, the sleep hormone.

Not only that, but by engaging with the information - an annoying email you just have to reply to, a ridiculous Facebook post you just have to comment on, just one more episode of EastEnders to get you really wound up, stimulates the brain, which is opposite of what you want to do when you're supposed to be winding down ready for bed.

Ideally you should turn off your gizmos preferably an hour before going to bed or at least 30 minutes.

Caffeine

Caffeine is a drug, more accurately, a stimulant that temporarily makes us feel more alert by increasing adrenaline production and blocking sleep-inducing chemicals in the brain. It may surprise you to learn that it can take up to six hours for the body to completely eliminate the caffeine in a cup of coffee.

You may or may not be affected by caffeine, not everyone is to the same extent. However, if you are having trouble sleeping, then this could be the cause. Consider not drinking any caffeinated drinks beyond about 3pm.

Alcohol

Alcohol is a sedative. It can make you drowsy and sends you to sleep quickly which makes you think it is helping. However, what happens is that you fall straight into deep sleep and stay there, rather than cycling through the other stages of sleep, It is important to go through these stages in sleep cycles as each has an important role in carrying out the work of rejuvenating your body and mind for the next day.

Sleep is not constant throughout the night, we cycle through four distinct sleep phases multiple times. There are two stages of light sleep. The lightest is the stage of sleep you’re likely in if you nod off during the day when consciousness is decreased, but the brain is still processing some information around you (sometimes hearing your name or another stimulus will jolt you awake). Intermediate light sleep is slightly deeper, which is harder to awaken from, your brain is actually very active during sleep doing important things — it’s not just resting. Deep slow-wave sleep is the next stage of sleep. This is the deepest, most restful, and most restorative stage of sleep, when it’s hardest to awaken. If you do get woken up during this stage of sleep you’re likely to feel groggy. And finally, there’s REM sleep (short for “rapid eye movement sleep”), which is when we dream. Our bodies tend to spend more time in restful slow wave sleep earlier in the night when our bodies and minds are most tired. Later in the night we tend to spend more time in REM sleep.

Another drawback of alcohol is that the effects wears off later in the night, probably waking you up, probably making you want to pee and probably starting your sleep cycle in the wrong part of the night.

Consider fewer drinks and stick to drinking earlier in the evening, not right up until bedtime.

Not enough Zed time

The amount of sleep people need per night does vary, although between seven and nine hours every 24 hours has been linked to the most health benefits, which is why those are the sleep recommendations for adults, according to the National Sleep Foundation.

One study followed a group who were restricted to six hours of sleep per night for two weeks. Their attention got progressively worse over that time period and by the end their attention was nearly equivalent to individuals who had been awake for two nights of getting no sleep. Another study found that after a week of getting just four-and-a-half hours of sleep per night, individuals reported worse moods (in terms of feeling stressed, angry, sad or mentally exhausted).

But how do you know how much sleep you need? If you are well rested overall, you should be able to wake up consistently at the same time without an alarm clock.

The bottom line is... the more you stress and worry about having just the right amount of sleep, the right routine or following the rules exactly, the tougher it is for your body to relax; which is what initiates all the internal chemical processes in the brain and the rest of the body that initiate sleep.

If you’re sleeping well, no need to change your routine. If you’d like to get more sleep or think there is room for improvement, try avoiding any or some bad habits you may have slipped into. And remember, listen to you and what works for your body. It may help you work out the best routine and conditions for you if you keep a sleep diary.

Sleep Diary

Keeping a sleep diary can help you keep track of when you slept well or poorly, and the possible reasons why that happened. Below are some questions for you to answer, do this for at least a week. Remember, this diary is your personal record of how well you slept and why, so be honest!

Sleep Diary Questions

  1. How did you sleep last night?
  2. What time did you go to bed?
  3. About how long did it take you to get to sleep?
  4. How many times did you wake up during the night?
  5. What time did you wake up?
  6. How long did you sleep for in total?
  7. What did you consume within four hours of going to bed and how long before bed did you consume it?
  8. What was the temperature outside and in your bedroom?
  9. What light sources were there when you went to sleep?
  10. How much noise was there when you went to sleep?
  11. What activities did you undertake before you went to sleep?
  12. Any other comments?
  13. How well did you feel throughout the next day (1 = awful, 5 = average, 10 = great)? Include a description, if appropriate (e.g. drowsy, grumpy, spaced out).

Finally, incorporating a Sommio weighted blanket into whatever sleep routine you devise, could well be the icing on the cake.

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