World Sleep Day, 16th of March – it’s a thing!
A few days ago, an email pinged into my inbox regarding ‘World Sleep Day on the 16th of March’. I was intrigued; surely they had not introduced a day dedicated to ‘Sleep’? Sure enough, it’s a real event and it’s backed and created by a real organization, not a mattress company looking to get some good PR.
World Sleep Day is organised by the World Sleep Society, founded by the World Association of Sleep Medicine and World Sleep Federation (whew, who knew?). These guys are on a mission to advance sleep health worldwide.
I’m not totally shocked though, as sleep and the lack of it has been on my mind and radar for many years. I know what a lack of sleep can do both short term and long term and as a personal trainer and fitness professional it was a factor in how I trained people and the way I dealt with clients from very early on.
When I started out in PT, most of my clients were women who usually worked full-time or part-time, had a few kids, a husband and very busy lives, hence they hired me 2 or 3 times a week to train them at a time and venue that suited them. The first thing most people said to me when I asked them ‘How are you?’ was ‘I’m tired’, some even said ‘exhausted’, ‘shattered’ and to be honest, they looked it too. Actually for some, they looked like they’d not slept in weeks and were dragging their feet. I always felt bad training them as I just wanted to ‘tuck them into bed’ for an hour with some ‘guided deep relaxation’.
We discussed sleep, their lack of sleep and their lifestyles and to be honest as someone who has never had kids, I don’t think I’ll ever be able to imagine what real sleep deprivation is. A friend and running buddy in Australia, who was a trained dietician working in the corporate world and with one-on-one clients’ told me that once she had a baby, it changed the way she dealt with all her clients. She said she could not really sympathize with her ‘mum clients’ who were ‘eating to stay awake’ until she had a baby herself – her own baby hardly slept during its first 6 months. By her own admission, during that time she was a walking zombie and she then realized what her clients were going through and it made her a totally different therapist.
We all live by circadian rhythms and this internal ‘time clock’ is what keeps us functioning. If we don’t sleep, our body does not rest, repair and renew, our hormones are not balanced, and our general health and wellbeing suffers greatly. This whole ‘sleep cycle’ is so important that two very clever researchers were awarded the ‘Nobel Peace Prize’ last year for their work on circadian rhythms and how it affects our lives. Sleep and the research into its benefits is now big news. (http://www.independent.co.uk/news/science/nobel-prize-medicine-physiology-winners-sleep-tips-circadian-rhythms-energy-a7979786.html)
Major corporations are doing ‘sleep seminars’ for staff, gyms are offering ‘sleep classes’ – you go and have a lie down for 30 mins in hammocks and your instructor guides you to sleep (serious!) and there is even a new organization in London called ‘wesleep’ which offers weekly workshops and classes in ‘how to sleep better’. https://www.wesleep.co.uk/
Why is sleep becoming so important and why do we need to be made aware of its importance, surely it’s just like breathing and we do it every night?
The problem is the amount of sleep we are getting: adults over the age of 18 need 7.5 to 9 hours sleep a night! Most people nowadays see anything more than 6 hours an absolute luxury, not a necessity. They have to cram so much into their day that at the end of the day, they are still rushing around at 10/11pm to finish things off, get things ready for the next day etc. so by the time they sit down and contemplate sleep, it’s near midnight and they are back up at 630am.
For new mums, shift workers and international commuters, they are in a permanent jet lag. Jet lag is the feeling we get when our circadian rhythms are out of whack and that horrible fog and lethargy can affect us for up-to 5 days or more; imagine that feeling for a few years of your life? To cope we use stimulants such as coffee, sugar, alcohol and food to help prop us up and get through the day or night. The worst part about this imbalance is the way in which prolonged sleep deprivation can affect your hormones, specifically cortisol, creating adrenal stress and fatigue, which leads to more rollercoaster highs and lows, increased inflammation in the body, getting sick a lot, stress, weight gain, chronic disease, and compromised immune systems.
And that is why there is now a ‘national sleep day’ because lack of sleep is causing us to get bigger and suffer from chronic diseases such as type 2 diabetes and some cancers. If our body cannot repair and renew cells every night then we are constantly in a deficit and that will have long-term effects.
We need to be told, made aware and we need to address it for long-term health – easier said than done when you have disrupted sleep patterns and are trying to cram everything into your day/night or work shifts.
During my time training ‘sleep deprived’ mums, stressed out career women and men, busy, busy people who were exhausted, I was always looking for the thing that would help them to get more sleep or feel better. I knew exercise was one of them as it made them feel better and look better, but sometimes listening to their body and having an extra hour in bed, rather than a 6am PT session was just what they needed. Here are a few tricks and things I picked up along the way.
- One of my mum’s literally went to bed at the same time as her children! Shock, horror! They were around 4 and 6 years old and she put them to bed at 7pm and she herself was in bed by 8pm. She knew that one of them would be in her bed at midnight waking her up with something, so she figured if she went to bed early, she would at least get 4 hours of uninterrupted sleep before she got woken up for an hour or two! It meant she could function the next day, get the kids to school/nursery and concentrate at work.
- I discovered the Power of napping during the day. When we moved to Australia, our lifestyle completely changed and I was up at 5am six days a week, training folk at 6am or running classes at 6am! By 3pm I felt like I’d been hit by a bus and rather than go on a carb frenzy to stay awake and get through my evening classes, I slept for 30 mins, okay sometimes 40 mins, but no more. I literally learnt to sleep anywhere, in the car, in bed, on a sofa, on a yoga mat on the floor, but I lay down. Sometimes I dozed, sometimes I woke myself up snoring, sometimes I just drifted in and out of consciousness, but I set my alarm and lay down and rested, even if my mind was racing, I did not get up until the alarm went off. I always felt better afterwards, whether I slept or not and felt like I could take on the rest of the day without eating half a loaf of bread!
- If I only had 10 mins, I took it and I slept or did ‘yoga nidri’ – which is a state of consciousness between waking and sleeping, like the "going-to-sleep" stage. It is a state in which the body is completely relaxed and you become more aware of your body by following a set of verbal instructions to relax your muscles. You can download a free app with a 10min/20min or 30 min version. The rest and rejuvenation you get from just 10 mins is huge and so much more beneficial than sitting on ‘facebook’ to relax.
- No TV, phones, laptops or stimulation 30 to 40 mins before bed: start tuning into your bodies signal to sleep. Reading a book (I find magazines are stimulating), doing yoga nidri, writing in a journal, having a cup of tea in a bath etc. are all techniques for easing into the land of nod. We are now soooo wired, that to just switch off and sleep can be difficult. We’ve lost touch with our circadian rhythms! Apparently after 5pm, our body tells us to go to bed every 90mins – we get an actual signal every 90 mins; this could be a yawn or a sudden feeling of tiredness. We usually ignore this, not once, but at least 3 or 4 times and push through, using another cup of tea, sugar, alcohol, iphone, TV etc. until we can’t ignore it anymore and surrender to complete and utter tiredness takes over.
- Exercise and yoga can really help us to sleep better but of course sometimes it energises us too, when we do it really late in the day. This instant energy passes though and after an hour it usually dissipates and you sleep so much better if you are active physically during the day. Some of my best sleeps ever are following a day outdoors in nature and in natural light, whether that is a cycle or hike, walk or on the water. Those are always my best sleeps. Think back to your best sleeps?
- Start a meditation practice – download an app, the headspace app is good!. Sitting down all day at work in unnatural light, draining our brains and jumping from one thing to another with no respite does not set us up for a good night’s sleep. Often what happens is that we keep all our worries and issues locked away until we lie down at night and then these thoughts all come flooding in, keeping us awake. If we can sit during the day and deal with some of these thoughts and learn not to banish them from our minds, but to acknowledge and move on, then these techniques will help us to get to sleep.
- Doing anything that requires concentration and blasts stress helps me to get better sleep and to switch off. Boxing and yoga are both amazing stress busters. You have to concentrate and switch off, your brain is ‘stilled’ for an hour or 90 mins whilst it balances on one leg, tunes into the teacher’s yoga dialogue or tries to keep up with the boxing combinations without hitting their partner!
- Alcohol, sugar, spicy food or too much food are going to disrupt your sleep. If you want a really good night’s sleep, eat clean and eat light – sometimes it’s good to wake up hungry so you can ‘break-a-fast’. The less work your body has to do at night to process food/toxins etc. the better, as it’s got heaps to keep it busy whilst you are in dreamland – all those major repairs and renewal of cells.
On our last hot yoga retreat we did a guided yoga nidri and meditation session and some of the participants fell asleep, quite early on and we had a few gentle snores! And that is just fine, although they missed going to the ‘beach’!. Louise Cullen from Transform Therapies in Stirling who is a client of studio and a mindfulness practitioner says, ‘you must not fight falling asleep through meditation, yoga nidri or relaxation techniques, just go with it, because that’s what your body needs right now and how lovely that you caught a few zzz’s’! Louise is running a ‘sleep well workshop’ on the 7th of April – visit her facebook page for more info: https://www.facebook.com/events/913291728840674/
I think going to bed early and getting up early, not every night but at least 70% of the time, listening to your body’s natural rhythms will go a long way to help you get through this crazy life and deal with anything the world throws at you. Being well rested gives you an edge in everything, from sport to exams to work and emotional stuff. Being dog-tired just makes everything harder.
Watch out for our new workshop coming soon, Yang yoga, Yin Yoga, Yoga nidri and guided meditation (we take you to the beach :). Have a good night’s sleep!
World Sleep Day is organized by World Sleep Society, founded by World Association of Sleep Medicine (WASM) and World Sleep Federation (WSF), an international association whose mission is to advance sleep health worldwide. World Sleep Society and the International RLS Study Group have collaborated to launch a sleep directory aiming to globally connect healthcare professionals and patients in their search for sleep experts at sleepdirectory.org. A job board has also been created for sleep medicine professionals on www.worldsleepsociety.org. Follow the excitement on Twitter @_WorldSleep and facebook.com/WASMF.