Why are we so Tired? 10 Top Tips for Better Sleep

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I recently got rid of my digital bedside clock after discovering that the light it produces disrupts the production of melatonin - an essential component of a good nights sleep.  By the way, clock checking in the night is what’s referred to in the psychology world as bad ‘sleep hygiene’.  More about that later...

It is estimated that 1 in 10 people in the UK have asked their GP for sleeping pills, that’s a lot of tired people. And tiredness has much to answer for…

  • Lack of sleep has in part been blamed for the Challenger Space Shuttle disaster and the Chernobyl nuclear accident.
  • It is associated with increased relationship conflict the next day.
  • It can lead to irritability, anxiety, depression and make us less able to learn and recall information.
  • Seventeen hours of sustained wakefulness leads to a decrease in performance equivalent to a blood alcohol level of 0.05%.  The legal limit to drive in the UK is 0.08% (and 0.05% in many countries including Ireland).
  • Fatal Familial Insomnia is an inherited disease where people literally die of no sleep.  It takes 18 awful months and is know to affect approximately 40 families worldwide. 

So why are we so tired?  Stress and excess mess with sleep.  It puts our body's natural circadian rhythm (sleep-wake cycle) out of kilter.   Sleep research in the last 25 years has given us some clear pointers to reduce tiredness. So here are my top tips for good 'sleep hygiene'.

1.          Make your smart phone sleep on the sofa. 

This will stop you roaming the Internet in the night and limit those blue light rays that your melatonin levels hate.  Same for iPads, laptops, and turning the bathroom light on in the night. 

2.         Don’t clock watch…estimate. 

Watching the minutes tick by increases frustration and anxiety.  If you estimate you've been lying awake for more than 20 minutes, get up and do something non-stimulating before trying again.  Remember no blue light devises.

3.         Limit your use of sunglasses. 

This will increase your exposure to natural light, which your circadian rhythm likes.

4.         Convince yourself you’ve had a good nights sleep. 

Poor sleepers tend to underestimate how much sleep they’ve had. Research shows that thinking you've had a good night improves well-being and performance, irrespective of the facts.  

5.         Use paradoxical intention.  

When you're lying in bed at night try telling yourself NOT to go to sleep.

6.          Make a to-do list before you go to bed and leave it in the kitchen. 

Important if you’re a night worrier.

7.         Avoid eating, drinking, exercising or over-stimulating yourself 2 hours before bedtime.

8.         Stick to a routine, as much as you can. 

Regular sleep times help your body know when you should be asleep and awake.  The worse your sleep the more strict you have to be about this.  

9.         Keep your bedroom cool and use it only for sleep and sex. 

Do everything else somewhere else (again you can be more of less strict depending on how badly you sleep).

10.        Take a philosophical attitude

The minimum sleep you need is 4.5 hours.  Unless your insomnia prevents you from getting even the minimum, try not to get frustrated.  You'll still be ok in the morning, if not at your best.  And remember that lying awake in a dark room is restful for you organs and muscles.

On a final note, tiredness is a mental state as well as a physical one.  Feeling overwhelmed, stressed, angry, anxious, unhappy, can all lead to emotional as well as physical exhaustion. Attend to what’s bothering you as well as your actual sleep.  You may get some surprising results.



Alice HaddonSleepComment