Adults sometimes have the tendency to forget to take care of themselves. The first and foremost self-care act one can undertake is to ensure that we have enough sleep. We are exposed to various workaholic CEOs highlighting their choice to be productive at work, over catching the right amount of rest. Very few people benefit from emulating these sleepless elite. Getting enough sleep is extremely important to maintain both physical and mental health.
Adults (25-60) need between seven to nine hours of sleep a night. Do you get at least 7 hours of quality sleep?
The need to rest is evolutionary. Inactivity allows us to conserve energy, repair our mental and physical systems, rejuvenate our minds and bodies, process the events and lessons from the day, and maintain neuroplasticity (the ability to use all parts of our brain to continue to learn). Sleep is essential for adults to optimise their performance when they are awake.
There are various theories regarding the purpose of dreams, but all support the concept that REM sleep (dream sleep) is somehow important. It seems that REM sleep may act towards mental housekeeping – sorting events from short term memory to long term memory, building neural pathways to improve our procedural capabilities (knowing how to perform a task) and process our emotional responses to situations. A good nights’ sleep allows us to tidy away yesterday and face each new day ready to take charge
Lack of sleep compromises one’s ability to concentrate and respond rationally. Mood swings, irritability, problems learning, and increased risk of accidents are all associated with sleep debt or deprivation. When we deprive ourselves of an optimal amount sleep our personal sleep debt accumulates. Hence you may find that you spend the weekend attempting to pay back this sleep debt, and live in a compromised state every other day.
Over the long term, physical ailments occur if you do not receive enough sleep. Conditions attached to sleep debt and deprivation includes diabetes, weakened immunity systems, high blood pressure, lowered sex drive, heart conditions, and mental health issues such as clinical depression and heighted stress responses.
The benefit of achieving the optimal amount of sleep on a consistent basis include living longer, having a stronger immune system, rejuvenation of the skin and beauty, greater creative capabilities, improved productivity and concentration. So, what are you waiting for? Go to bed.
If only it was so easy?
Sleeping issues take time to develop and take time to overcome. A simple solution is to utilise sleeping medications. These medications are usually not intended for long term use as they can be addictive. They are best to help overcome acute sleep problems, is to learn to develop healthy sleep patterns.
Sleep training: the adult edition. Multiple books detail how to train babies and infants to fall and stay asleep. Just as you have to consistently practice sleep practices with children, repetition is important to achieve results with adults. Every time you break healthy sleep patterns (travelling, staying out late, all nighters at work) you may have to start your sleep training again
Building better sleep
Step 1: Sleep logs. You want to know what your sleep is like so that you have a baseline. In addition to your bedtime and wake up time, which should give you the number of hours you had at rest, you may want to rate your sleep. You can give yourself a score out of five – 1 point for achieving each of the following:
1 point if you fall asleep quickly – within 20 minutes of going to bed
1 point if you only experienced minor night time waking – you may be aware that you woke up, but fall back to sleep quickly, not need to get out of bed, or check your phone.
1 point if you are aware that you dreamed. You don’t need to be able to remember the content, but only if you had some dreams during sleep
1 point if you slept more than 7 hours
1 point if you woke in the morning feeling refreshed (within the first hour of waking).
Recording the quality of your sleep is as important as the quantity of your sleep.
Monitor for a few weeks whilst you try various other steps
Step 2: set a regular bed time. Having a regular bedtime trains your body to start to wind down in a trained fashion. Go to bed/ sleep at the latest by 11 pm. Try to wake up when you can experience morning light – so in Hong Kong that is around 7am. If you need to wake up at a specific time, plan your bedtime to be at least 8 or 9 hours ahead of that time.
Step 3: minimise stimulants ahead of bedtime. This doesn’t only mean coffee or cola drinks, this includes screen time, TV, social media. Stop using devices an hour before bedtime. These devices keep your mind awake. Instead use this time for calming activities
Step 4: Maximise calm activities and a calm routine. Taking a bath, writing in a journal, colouring pictures, drinking cocoa, listening to music, reading in bed, and massaging your muscles start to help your body obtain a resting state ahead of bed, and convey to your mind and body that sleep is coming.
Step 5: Build a nest. A tidy room with minimal clutter, blackout curtains, weighted blankets all enhance the feeling of being settled in bed.
Step 6: Eliminate mental clutter. As you go to bed consider how are you going to clear your mind. If you wake with ideas during the night, keep a pad and pen beside the bed so that you can jot down a prompt for the idea and go back to sleep immediately. Writing a journal before you go to bed is a wonderful exercise to empty your mind of worries gathered during the day. Praying and celebrating what you are grateful for also helps you create a sense of mental calm before you go to bed. For more information on the benefits of journaling see our blog on this issue. ( https://reddoor.hk/2017/03/22/six-fantastic-benefits-of-writing-a-journal/)
Step 7: catch up on debts. Sleeping for one single period, at night is a human evolutionary practice created in response to the world of work. In some cultures, and among other species, multiple periods of sleep is the norm. Consider a siesta occasionally, and see if napping is a benefit to you. This may help you catch up on your sleep debt, or help you recharge your batteries.
One last note – whilst much of the focus of this article is focused toward achieving enough sleep, there are also health problems related to sleeping too much. Oversleeping can be caused by other health problems, but also contributes to health problems. If you regularly sleep more than 10-12 hours a day please consult your doctor. Oversleeping has been associated with heart disease, diabetes, pain, obesity, depression and sleep apnoea. Too much sleep also impairs your cognitive function, so try to monitor your sleep, and look to set up healthy waking and sleeping patterns.
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