Sleep plays a fundamental part in our overall health. Life throws many stresses at us which disrupt our sleep patterns, causing us to get ill mental and physical health. So why is sleep important for our general health?
Why do we sleep?
As we sleep, we:
- Repair and rebuild cells to fight off infections, replace hormones/neurotransmitters;
- Housekeeping occurs. We create neural connections through the day from the events in our lives, at night the brain works to keep the connections that are useful and dissolve the ones that are not. We clear out the debris from cell metabolism by flushing out neurotoxins via the glymphatic system, creating larger channels in the brain, to allow the fluid to flush the system from brain debris. One of the harmful products that is flushed out is beta-amyloid, a protein associated with Alzheimer’s disease;
- Memory consolidation. During our sleep, the memories that are stored short term in the Hippocampus are processed and stored in the long-term storage in the main cortex in the brain as it has more storage capacity, our hard drive. We also process during REM sleep in a stress-free environment in the form of dreaming;
- Learning, by doing the memory consolidation we store new facts in the hippocampus which is then processed into the main cortex; by taking short restful breaks through the day, we increase our learning capacity;
- Dreaming is in a stress-free environment, so that stressful situations can be addressed and processed without the adrenaline stress responses;
- We feel recharged, refreshed, reenergised, and rebooted to start the day feeling fresh.
What triggers us to sleep?
Our Circadian Rhythm. This is our internal biological clock which is roughly 24hours. Our eyes process the light signals in the optic nerves and triggers the release of Melatonin at dusk. Our levels of melatonin increase throughout the night, so we get the instruction to fall asleep. The levels decrease again when we are asleep and as soon as daylight is detected the pineal gland shuts down the production of melatonin.
Sleep pressure. Throughout the day our neurons break down Adenosine Triphosphate molecules for energy, and the by-product Adenosine, activates the sleep control neurons near the Hypothalamus. The more we are awake, the more Adenosine builds up, increasing our desire to sleep. After 8 hours of healthy sleep all the Adenosine is removed.
Caffeine can block the Adenosine receptor pathways. However it is still building up which is why we get the ‘crash’ when caffeine wears off. Another important thing to note is that it takes 6 hours for caffeine to be out of your system.
What happens in our sleep?
There are 2 types of sleep Non-Rapid Eye Movement (NREM) 75-80% of our sleep, which restores the body, where our brains are idle in a movable body, and Rapid Eye Movement (REM) 20-25% of our sleep, which restores the mind, our brain is active in a paralysed body. We sleep in a cycle of approximately 90 minutes, starting the night with deep sleep, then with REM duration increasing later in our sleep and spikes of awake time throughout the night, which we generally don’t notice.
We dream for 71% of the time during NREM sleep – dreams tend to be disconnected, less vivid, more mundane, and less memorable than REM dreams. We dream for 95% of the time in REM, and dreams are usually rich, hallucinogenic, emotional, bizarre experiences. Sleep researchers usually focus on REM dreaming.
Sleep allows us to consolidate and process all the information that we have collected and experienced during the day. As we process this, our brain creates images, impressions, and narratives, to manage the activity going on inside our heads as we sleep – it is constantly pattern matching, finding things in your hard drive to fill in the gaps as it cannot generate a “real world” reality without feedback from the environment. Therefore, dreams often seem so odd; they draw on memories and images from your entire life, even though they are only about unresolved arousals from that day!
How much sleep do we need?
On average we sleep 20% less than we did! Average sleep in the 1950s= 8 hours compared with average sleep in the UK today= 6.3 hours.
Newborns: 14 –17 hours on an irregular schedule
Teenagers: Need 9 hours. Biologically programmed to go to bed late and get up late!
Adults: Need ideally 7 –8 hours
What happens with a lack of sleep?
After 16 hours of being awake the brain begins to fail. Being awake for 16 hours decreases your performance as much as if your blood alcohol level was at 0.05% (the UK drink-drive limit is 0.08%) Think of someone who consumes half a bottle of wine a night, they’re still coping, still functioning, however would you be happy to entrust your life to a surgeon who had been drinking alcohol?
Lack of sleep is a factor in many health issues, here are a few:
- Inflammation -not getting enough sleep is linked to higher levels of inflammation, a known risk factor for heart disease and stroke, and causes an intolerance to pain, meaning we have a heightened sensitivity to pain;
- Obesity – Cortisol levels increase, reducing our ability to burn fat. Primitive areas of the brain take over leading to less control, so we give in to craving for snacks. Sleep loss leads to the release of Ghrelin, the hunger hormone, the signal becomes stronger. Endocannabinoids increase so the brain craves carbohydrates / sugars (like cannabis-style ‘munchies’). Insufficient sleep also causes a fall in the levels of Leptin, our feeling full hormone which means appetite increases;
- Diabetes -lack of sleep increases your body’s resistance to insulin.
- High blood pressure -sleep helps your blood regulate stress hormones and helps your nervous system remain healthy.
- Accelerated skin ageing –cortisol affects skin elasticity, causing people to look older.
- Vicious Circle of drugs. When you’re tired, you need stimulants to get you through the day –caffeine, nicotine, etc. You’re wired by the time you get to bed so you may drink alcohol to get to sleep. Alcohol sedates you; this is not the same as sleep, it makes you unconscious but not asleep as it suppresses REM. This harms the neural processing for memory consolidation, and you don’t wake up refreshed.
How can Hypnotherapy help?
Hypnotherapy can help with sleep disorders in a variety of ways, by reducing anxiety and moving away from depression, controlling your weight, and working through addictions. Listening to my relaxation recording which helps that neural processing, therefore helping clients to get a good night’s sleep.
Some useful tips to aid a good night sleep
- Give yourself a good two to three hours of down time before bed, reading, watching TV, listening to music. Limit time on electronic devices, you need a break from checking emails just before going to sleep, and the screens emit bright blue light, which can suppress the production of melatonin.
- Relax in a hot bath –this brings blood vessels to the surface which aids in cooling the body ready for sleep.
- Keep your room dark.
- Make sure your room isn’t too hot or too cold, keep it slightly cool around 16-18°C.
- Don’t treat your bedroom as an extension of your living room or a study. Use it for sleeping and sex only!
- Decorate it in calm, restful colours.
- Some smells can affect your mood, maybe put a few drops of lavender essential oil near your pillow to help you become more relaxed and calmer.
- Try to leave at least two hours between eating and sleeping to avoid indigestion, keeping your evening meal light as a large meal before bed can disrupt sleep quality.
- Limit caffeine to before 2pm and opt for herbal or decaf alternatives after this time. Aim to drink no more than two to three cups of caffeine per day as this can keep you up during the night; don’t forget it’s present in coffee, tea, cocoa, chocolate, some soft drinks, some herbal remedies and ‘non-drowsy’ drugs!
- Avoid too much Alcohol as it reduces our important REM sleep so we don’t get that useful processing, and it suppresses our breathing which can precipitate sleep apnoea.
- Physical activity reduces stress and tires you, so it improves sleep quality and increases our sleep duration; ideally no exercise within two to three hours of going to bed.
- Take advantage of power naps! Nap for no more than 30 minutes for an effective natural boost of daytime energy. Research shows that taking a power nap can increase alertness levels by 100% for up to four hours afterwards and do not interfere with our normal sleep pattern – 3pm is the recommended cut off no later or it can interfere with normal sleep!
- Keep to a routine, go to bed at the same time and get up at the same time each day and aim for 7-8 hours’ sleep a night.
- If you are struggling to get to sleep, keep calm, the physical rest is doing you good. Distract a busy mind by finding positives of your day, doing slow deep breathing techniques, taking in the silence, and doing some meditation. Listen to the hypnotherapy recording so the brain gets used to switching off and going to sleep.
Sleep is crucial, it’s not optional.
If we sleep well, we enhance our ability to come up with novel solutions to problems, enhance creativity, improve concentration, better decision making and better social skills.
Solution focused hypnotherapy helps you focus on a future with better sleep patterns, so that physically and mentally, you can emerge as the person you wish to be…
If you would like the link to my recording which helps you find relaxation and calm when you need it, or to book the initial consultation then please contact me.