Switching off. Why do so many of us find it so hard when surely it is the best thing in the world?!
As a personal trainer my life is spent in a multitude of positions as I jump, lift, squat, push, pull and twist my way through daily life. I love being on the move. I also love nothing more than lying horizontal. Bed is beautiful and one of my favourite places in the world. Silently supportive, it is unconditional love at its best.
For the most part, I am extremely lucky and sleep well. I say lucky but in actual fact I take my sleep very seriously simply because I know just how big an impact it has on me if I don’t get enough. I am grumpy and foggy-minded, I reach for the wrong foods (caffeine, sugar) in a bid to find more energy and generally feel lacklustre and sub-par. This doesn’t cut the mustard in a job that requires endless energy, positivity and motivation. Over the years I have had numerous periods of poor sleep nearly always as a result of my inability to deal with the current stresses in my life and/or over-training. It pains me to say it but yes, you can overdo a good thing. Fortunately for me, these have been episodes only. Some have lasted for months at a time though, and this has enabled me to empathise to some degree with those who suffer from insomnia, which is a whole other beast, one so growly and isolating I can’t begin to see how people function amid the sludge of its weight.
At work, I constantly check in with my client’s quality and quantity of sleep and am surprised to discover just how many people suffer from poor sleep. It is a very common problem and, I believe, a serious one because it has such an enormous impact on quality of life, weight management, ability to deal with stress, long-term health and general well-being. Simply put, getting it right matters. We look, feel and function better on a good night’s sleep.
We know this and yet, as we choose to pack more and more into our lives and those of our children, we lose the equilibrium of the yin and the yang, of firing up versus winding down, of knowing how to hold on and when to let go. The pressure to achieve more is undercut by the inability to get the fundamentals right and we find ourselves chasing rest rather than allowing it to happen.
There are a multitude of reasons for poor sleep. Here are a few obvious culprits:
❖ Poor diet (this clearly covers a multitude of sins…)
❖ Over-consumption of caffeine, alcohol, sugar, stimulants
❖ Lack of exercise
❖ Lack of adequate water consumption
❖ Stress & our methods of coping with it, or not
❖ Small children
❖ Big children….
❖ Parents (I see a theme emerging)
❖ TV in the bedroom
❖ Too much light
❖ Laptop, tablet, mobile use in bed
❖ Consistently not getting to bed in time
Some of these may be familiar to you (I’m presuming you’ve met your small/big children by now) whilst others you may not connect to at all. I find the ones that people find the hardest to change are the last two. We know we have to get up for the alarm in the morning and yet, in a bid to relax we distract ourselves with a show (just the one episode…), social media, a spot of shopping (since when does this save time?) or an interesting article and the next thing we know hours have past and we can’t switch off because our brain has been over-stimulated.
Enter Sleep Tactics: tossing and turning from side to side like a rubbery, over-cooked pancake; focusing on the back of your eyelids desperately hoping your eyes won’t ping open again; willing your brain to “shut up!” as you try to empty it of thought; alternating poking your feet outside the doona (duvet, for our continental cousins) & pulling them back in again in a bid to regulate your body temperature; spooning your partner, partly looking for some action but also to let them know that you can’t sleep and what are they going to do about it?
Then the dread and panic sets in as you see the hours tick by knowing that pesky alarm is going to bleep all too soon and you’re going to feel and look about 104 come morning. Finally, having re-decorated the house, written a blockbuster and done a full-body wriggle workout, exhaustion steps in and the snoring begins. Bleep! Bleep!
THE NERDY FACT BIT
We are instinctively programmed to rise with daylight and retire at nighttime. When light from any source, be it natural or otherwise, hits our eyes our brain thinks it is morning. This triggers our hormonal system to release cortisol, a stress hormone activated by the light in order to prepare us for movement and activity. Once upon a time, this activity would have been to prepare to fight or flee whereas nowadays, it simply means going about one’s day. The physiology, however, remains the same.
Paul Chek articulates this idea beautifully in his book, “How to Eat, Move and Be Healthy!”:
“As the sun rises, our cortisol levels also rise and peak between 6:00 a.m. and 9:00 a.m. They then drop a little but remain high through midday, supporting daily activities. In the afternoon, cortisol levels begin dropping significantly, especially as the sun goes down. Decreasing cortisol levels allow the release of melatonin and increase the levels of growth and repair hormones. If we follow our natural sleep/wake cycles, we start winding down as the sun sets and should fall asleep by about 10:00 p.m. Physical repairs mostly take place when the body is asleep, between about 10:00 p.m. and 2:00 a.m. After 2:00 a.m. the immune and repair energies are more focused on psychogenic (mental) repair, which last until we awaken.”
So, how can we be better in bed?
Accept that we’ve got it wrong and need to change.
Then, follow the example we set our kids. That’s right, do as we say. Weird, huh?
We know our kids need plenty of sleep so we teach them to wind down by following familiar rituals around bedtime and ensure they go to bed at the same time every day. We feed them, give them a bath, dim the lights and read them a story. From a book.
In a nutshell:
● Take regular exercise
● Eat a balanced diet
● Drink plenty of water
● Go to bed at the same time each day
● Prepare by dimming the lights & switching off all electronic devices
● Avoid stimulants from midday
● Have a bath to help wind down and relax
● Relish being horizontal, quiet and still
Keep it simple and be consistent. Rules of thumb(s). Ding, ding!
As always, comments, stories, feedback welcome. If you enjoyed this and/or know of someone else who might, please share randomly, widely and plentifully!
Photo credits: Maklay62, Susannp4, Kaz, GDJ, Wokandapix, Dagon, Myriams-Fotos, Openicons