Sleep can have a huge influence on our daily life and it can be upsetting and distressing for us when sleep is disrupted over a period. However, sometimes the worry about not getting enough sleep can also add to the problem.
Sleep is unique to each individual and everyone has an ‘optimum’ number of hours of sleep needed.
This can vary from person to person but can also vary throughout an individual’s1 life due to age, health and lifestyle. It is not surprising that in a world where we are ‘always on’, that we find it hard to switch off at night.
Most likely Reasons Which Can Result In Problems Sleeping Are:
- Normal effects of ageing (this lessens as we get older)
- Disruption (Babies, children, partner, shift patterns, temperature)
- Medical Conditions and pain
- Depression, low mood, anxiety
- Life events (bereavements, work stress, big events)
- Lifestyle (Too much caffeine, not enough exercise, sleeping during the day)
- Financial problems
Often the worry about getting to sleep can perpetuate the problem as the worry keeps us awake. Then the vicious circle of anxiety keeps turning.
Mindfulness techniques can help to focus on the pleasant sensation of being in bed rather than worrying about the day just gone or the day ahead.
A Healthy Bedtime Routine Can Go a Long Way In Helping To Improve Sleep Patterns.
- Try to use the hour before bed to unwind and prepare for sleep.
- Some people find a hot drink can help (non-caffeinated), and essential oils such as lavender can also help to encourage sleep.
- Where and if possible increase your daytime activity and exercise
- Limit your screen time as these stimulate the mind. Keep devices out of the bedroom if possible.
- try not to sleep during the day.
- Limit caffeine in the afternoons and alcohol in the evenings.
- Your bedroom environment needs to be right for you, is it too hot or too cold, too noisy, too quiet, too light?
- Are you comfortable, right pillow, clothing?
- Consistent bedtime and wake-up time.
- Meditation, or relaxing music, such as various apps that can now be accessed.
There are two basic types of sleep: Rapid eye movement (REM) sleep and non-REM sleep (which has three different stages).
Each is linked to specific brain waves and neuronal activity. You cycle through all stages of non-REM and REM sleep several times during a typical night, with increasingly longer, deeper REM periods usually occurring toward morning.
According to the ‘National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke’ there are four separate stages….
non-REM sleep is the changeover from wakefulness to sleep. During this short period (lasting several minutes) of relatively light sleep, your heartbeat, breathing, and eye movements slow, and your muscles relax with occasional twitches. Your brain waves begin to slow from their daytime wakefulness patterns.
non-REM sleep is a period of light sleep before you enter deeper sleep. Your heartbeat and breathing slow, and muscles relax even further. Your body temperature drops and eye movements stop. Brain wave activity slows but is marked by brief bursts of electrical activity. You spend more of your repeated sleep cycles in stage 2 sleep than in other sleep stages.
non-REM sleep is the period of deep sleep that you need to feel refreshed in the morning. It occurs in longer periods during the first half of the night. Your heartbeat and breathing slow to their lowest levels during sleep. Your muscles are relaxed and it may be difficult to awaken you. Brain waves become even slower.
first occurs about 90 minutes after falling asleep. Your eyes move rapidly from side to side behind closed eyelids. Mixed frequency brain wave activity becomes closer to that seen in wakefulness. Your breathing becomes faster and irregular, and your heart rate and blood pressure increase to near waking levels. Most of your dreaming occurs during REM sleep, although some can also occur in non-REM sleep. Your arm and leg muscles become temporarily paralyzed, which prevents you from acting out your dreams. As you age, you sleep less of your time in REM sleep. Memory consolidation most likely requires both non-REM and REM sleep”.
There are internal biological mechanisms - circadian rhythm and homeostasis–which work together to regulate when you are awake and sleep.
Circadian rhythms direct a wide variety of functions from daily fluctuations in wakefulness to body temperature, metabolism, and the release of hormones
Your body’s biological clock, which is based on a roughly 24-hour day, controls most circadian rhythms. Circadian rhythms synchronize with environmental cues (light, temperature) about the actual time of day, but they continue even in the absence of cues.
Sleep-wake homeostasis is a kind of balance in the body which tries to keep track of your need for sleep. The homeostatic sleep drive reminds the body to sleep after a certain time and regulates sleep intensity. It should help your body to realise it needs to sleep for longer and deeper to catch up for example, if you have had a period of sleep deprivation such as a couple of sleepness nights. You can become accustomed to disruptions such as a new baby, or shifts for example, however you will usually still feel the affects of long term lack of sleep.
So How Much Sleep Do You Need?
Your need for sleep and your sleep patterns change as you age, and there is no set golden rule. As an idea….
- Babies initially sleep as much as 16 to 18 hours per day.
- Preschool age and young school-age approx. 11 hours per night.
- School-age children and teens on average need about 9.5 hours of sleep per night.
- Most adults need 7-9 hours of sleep a night.
- After age 60, night-time sleep tends to be shorter, lighter and interrupted.
How do you dream?
Apparently, everyone spends about 2 hours each night dreaming, but you may not remember most of your dreams.
Its exact purpose isn’t known but dreaming may help you process your emotions. Events from the day often invade your thoughts during sleep, and people suffering from stress or anxiety are more likely to have frightening dreams.
Dreams can be experienced in all stages of sleep but usually are most vivid in REM sleep. Interestingly, some people dream in colour, while others only recall dreams in black and white.
Children and Sleep
Good sleep is important for your child's physical and mental wellbeing.
A relaxing bedtime routine is one important way to help your child get a good night's sleep.
Relaxation tips to help sleep
Doing the same relaxing things in the same order and at the same time each night helps promote good sleep:
- A warm (not hot) bath will help your child relax and get ready for sleep.
- Keeping lights dim encourages your child's body to produce the sleep hormone, melatonin.
- Once they're in bed, encourage your child to read quietly or listen to some relaxing music, or read a story together.
Know how much sleep your child needs
The amount of sleep your child needs will change as they get older.
A 5-year-old needs about 11 hours a night, for example, while a 9-year-old needs roughly 10 hours. Then as the child gets older, they may need slightly less. However, this also depends on their level of activity during the day.
Avoid Screens In The Bedroom….
Obviously this depends on the child's age, as generally younger children tend not to have tablets. Although the way society has shifted over recent years, we are likely to see more and more 4/5-year-olds with tablets for example, and no limitations on their use.
Tablets, smartphones, TVs and other electronic gadgets can affect how easily children get to sleep so they should not be allowed at bedtime, or up to an hour before.
Older children may also stay up late or even wake in the middle of the night to use social media.
Try to keep your child's bedroom a screen-free zone, and get them to charge their phones in another room.
Encourage your child to stop using screens an hour before bedtime.
Your Child's Bedroom
Your child's bedroom should ideally be dark and quiet. It should be well ventilated and kept at a temperature of about 16 to 20C.
A small nightlight is needed for small children, but this is a source of comfort and is generally a gentle source of light or glow.
Blackout curtains are a great idea, especially during the summer months when the clocks spring forward.
Teenagers and Sleep
Trouble getting up on school days, dozing off in class, marathon lie-ins at weekends... It may feel like your teenager is sleeping their life away.
In fact, the opposite is probably true. Sleep experts say teens today are sleeping less than they ever have.
This is a worry, as there's a link between sleep deprivation and health issues later on in life.
Teenagers' Sleep Patterns
Research suggests that teenagers' body clocks are set later than adults and younger children. So they will naturally stay up later and then get up later the following morning.
Sleep patterns are affected by light and hormones and this is not different in a teenager. When the light dims in the evening, most of us produce a chemical called melatonin, which tells us it's time to sleep.
The problem is that with modern life has come brighter room lighting, TVs, games consoles, mobiles, tablets and PCs which provide never-ending stimulation and entertainment in a now ever ‘immediate’ society. All this stimulation and blue light can stop our bodies producing melatonin, or if not stop, then seriously affect it.
This would not be a problem if your teenager did not have to get up early for school.
These early morning wake-up times mean they're not getting the 8 to 9 hours of sleep they need. The result is a tired, cranky teenager who struggles with every task throughout the day, including learning. Eventually, this can affect health.
Tips for better teen sleep….Although difficult to get across…….
Catching up on sleep at weekends is not ideal. Late nights and long lie-ins will just disrupt your teenager's body clock even more.
However tired they feel, teenagers should avoid lie-ins at the weekend. They should also get out into the daylight during the day.
Both these things will help to keep their body clock regular, and make it easier to go to sleep and get up at a reasonable time.
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