Sleep is a current obsession of mine. Not just heading off for a nap myself, although that is pretty good too – but talking about and support other people to get a better night’s sleep. I have a Pocket Guide to sleep available on Amazon, I even do a live workshop about it – but, unbelievably, I haven’t really written about it here!
Sleep, or lack of, has a massive impact on all areas of your physical and mental health, including anxiety, which is what sparked my interest in it.
There is a scale that Doctors use to measure the severity of depression/anxiety called the Hamilton Scale – sleeping well can improve someone’s score on this scale by up to 6 points. To put that into perspective, anti-depressants only improve the score by up to 1.8 points.
Probably the first thing to answer is Why do we sleep? The truth is that scientists aren’t really sure what the purpose of sleep is. During our evolution, when we were in the wild, lying unconscious and vulnerable at the end of each day doesn’t seem like a great idea on the face of it, so there must be a massive evolutionary advantage.
It isn’t simply energy saving. Sleeping, compared to being quite still, but awake only saves around 110 calories a night. If it was only an energy saving mechanism, we could make up for being awake all night by eating a KitKat*, but we can’t. (*Other multiple fingered chocolate covered wafer snacks are available.)
The latest theory is that it is a chance for our brain and body to reset and to process the events from the day. Why that requires us to be unconscious is not clear.
What is clear, is the impact that a lack of sleep has on us both physically and mentally. Physically it increases your blood pressure, increases your chance of developing diabetes, heart problems, obesity, and all kinds of other health impacts.
Mentally it makes it hard to concentrate, think clearly and increases feelings of anxiety and depression. Being awake for just 18 hours (so just a slightly than longer normal day) impairs your cognitive function to a similar level as 2 glasses of wine – that’s why driving tired is so dangerous.
I can’t fit into one blog all the ways you can sleep better – I’ve recorded a short version of my SLEEP! workshop if you’d like to find out more (I’ve put the form at the bottom of the page to check that out), but I want to give you something here and now that you can use in order to improve your sleep – so I’m going to give you one of the big ones.
Set yourself a good routine around sleep. Go to bed at around the same time (might sound obvious, but when you feel sleepy is best) and equally as importantly, get up at the same time each day. Long lie ins at the weekend may seem nice but they are not helping you sleep well during the week.
It may take a while for a new routine to have a positive impact, but it’s well worth the effort in the long run.