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Sleep – The Wake Up Call

Sleep – The Wake Up Call

How many times have you said that there are not enough hours in the day? As our lives have become busier, not just in work but also in play, fitting it all in and getting that ‘balance’ can be difficult. We resort to extending our day by either getting up earlier or staying up later. By doing this we starve ourselves of the most important part of our 24 Hour day. Sleep.

Having recently read the book ‘Why We Sleep’ by Professor Matthew Walker I have been inspired to share some of what I learned.  I was surprised by how much there was to learn about sleep other than you either did it well or you didn’t!

I have changed the amount of sleep I allow myself each night because as the advert says “You’re worth it” and I now understand the importance for my health and wellbeing. You are ‘worth it’ too and if there is any way that you can increase the hours you spend asleep, if it is less than 7-8 hours, then I urge you to try and make that change.

I wish there was a magic cure for those of you who want to sleep and have the time but simply can’t.  There are a couple of links at the bottom of this blog which give tips and introduce a new and respected method of help. Maybe, just maybe there is something that you haven’t yet tried.

The easiest way to share my new-found knowledge is to suggest you buy the book! That is still a great idea but I have also put together some common myths about sleep.  This I hope will give you a better understanding of the dangerous misconceptions we have about sleep.

We spend an estimated third of our lives asleep so understanding a little more about that time must be a good thing.

Myth 1.

Adults can manage perfectly well on 5 or less? hours of sleep:

We all want to be able to function at our best during the day, stay healthy, be mentally strong and enjoy our lives.  Correct? With less than 7 hours sleep (minimum) this desire is hugely compromised and the belief that is it fine to ‘manage’ on just a few hours of sleep is a dangerous assumption.

“In a longitudinal study of 10,308 British civil servants published in 2007, researchers found that those who reduced their sleep from seven to five hours or less a night were almost twice as likely to die from all causes, especially cardiovascular disease.

Science has also linked poor slumber with high blood pressure, a weakened immune system, weight gain, a lack of libido, mood swings, paranoia, depression and a higher risk of diabetes, stroke, dementia and some cancers.”

This worrying statement is not there to frighten anyone just to open our eyes to the affect sleep deprivation can have.

Did You Know?More people die from road traffic accidents caused by ‘drowsy drivers’ than alcohol and drug related accidents put together?

Myth 2.

It’s a good thing to be able to fall asleep anywhere, anytime:

When I heard people say “I can sleep on a washing line” it used to make me envious, but now I wonder whether those who said that were actually just desperately tired!

If you fall asleep as soon as the car/train/aeroplane starts moving it is a bad sign, indicating poor sleeping habits. Your body is trying to repay it’s sleep debt at any opportunity.

Did You Know?Our bodies start producing ‘sleep hormones’ (adenosine & melatonin) as soon as we awake.  Only sleep can reduce their levels.  The longer we are awake the higher the levels so the more sleepy we become.

Myth 3.

Your brain and body can adapt to less sleep:

All that happens is we ‘learn’ to function at a lower level.  It becomes normal to have less energy, to feel a little tired a lot of the time, for our memory to be “not what it used to be!” The list goes on and we won’t even realise that this has happened to us.  The best news is that providing you have the control to change your sleep pattern then this downward trend can be reversed.  Imagine being a better you without an exercise in sight!??

To fully restore itself the body cycles through various phases of sleep every 90 minutes.                                                                                                   

Stage 1 – Non REM (rapid eye movement)sleep – during this stage the brain starts to slow its activity down as we have switched off the visual messages so there is less to process. This gives it time to start  getting everything in order.

Stage 2 – REM sleep – this occurs as we drift into a deeper sleep and is where things get interesting. The brain becomes alive with activity and studies have shown the activity is no less than when we are awake.  Memories are stored, learning is saved, a little like file transfers, a brain clean-up is in full flow! This is also the stage when we dream.

Did you know? Our arms and leg muscles are temporarily paralysed during the REM phase of sleep so that we can’t act out your dreams.

Myth 4

Drinking alcohol before bed helps you fall asleep:

Well actually it does, but the problem is we think it then continues to aid our sleep which is where the myth begins. Alcohol actually ‘traps’ us in the lighter stages of sleep and dramatically reduces the quality of our sleep.  The vital deeper stages of sleep elude us which is a very good reason to drop this bad habit.

Did you know? Your desire to eat more when you are tired is no coincidence.  Without enough sleep the concentration of a hormone that makes you feel hungry increases while at the same time the hormone which signals you are full is suppressed. A proven recipe for weight gain.

Myth 5

If you can’t sleep stay in bed with your eyes close and keep trying:

Apparently, that is just like going to the gym, standing on a treadmill and not pressing start!  In fact, if we continue with the ‘struggle’ for more than 15 minutes night after night we will start to associate the bed with insomnia.

TIP Keep the lights low and do something that does not tax your brain and avoid gadgets at all costs, the next myth explains why!

Myth 6

Watching TV or checking Facebook on our phones helps us relax:

I am going to leave this one to the National Sleep Foundation

“blue light affects the release of melatonin, one of the sleep hormones, more than any other wavelength of light. Watching TV or using an electronic device within two hours of bedtime means it will take you longer to fall asleep, you’ll have less dream state or REM sleep, and even if you do sleep eight or more hours, you’ll wake feeling groggy.

If you or your children can’t make that two-hour cut off because of homework or late-night work demands, experts suggest dimming the brightness of the screen or installing an app that can warm the screen to the sunset colours. Red and yellow have higher wavelengths and don’t affect melatonin.”

Did you know? We sleep better in cooler temperatures. When babies kick off their bedclothes, they know what they are doing 😊

Myth 7

Hitting the snooze button gives us valuable extra minutes of sleep:

The problem is that we do go back to sleep and enter the wrong part of the sleep cycle for waking up! So instead of feeling refreshed and alert we feel groggy and take longer to shake it off. 

TIP: Move your alarm so that you have to get up to turn it off.  Alexa should not be allowed in the bedroom!

Did you know? Our circadian rhythm (24 hour cycle) changes during different stages of our lives and most interesting is the change in adolescents. Their 24 hour cycle shifts forward up to 3 hours.  This means that trying to coax a teenager to sleep at 9 or even 10pm is pointless as they simply have no desire to sleep.  Trying to wake them up at 7am and expect them to behave reasonably is the same as asking an adult the same at 4am!

Myth 8

Sleeping Pills enhance the quality of your sleep:

Even the most up to date medication prescribed for people who struggle to get a good night’s sleep cannot ‘enhance or improve’ the quality of sleep.  This is because they act as a sedative. They target the same system in the brain that alcohol does.  Studies show that the medicated person then lacks the deepest stage of sleep and often feels groggy the next day.  It isn’t the pills that do this it is the poor quality of sleep that they induce which causes it.  A vicious circle.

So, what is the alternative?

Most of you will have heard of CBT (cognitive behavioural therapy) and it is becoming increasing embraced by the medical community as a first-line treatment.  The link below gives a much better explanation than I ever could.  Have a read and don’t be put off by the word ‘insomnia.’ If you have trouble sleeping on a regular basis then help is needed!

There are many other myths such as:

It doesn’t matter what time of day you sleep:

More sleep is always better:

Sleeping during the day can help with insomnia:

These are all unfounded and in fact detrimental to achieving good sleep hygiene as it is known.


12 Tips For A Good Night’s Sleep 

I have used this link because there are an awful lot of interesting articles in this publication but do scroll down to the sleep section before you get too distracted 😊

If you have any questions about your understanding of sleep or just want to talk about the problems you might be having please ask.

About the Author

I have been involved in fitness all my life but never been hugely competitive. Entering the world of fitness instructor, personal trainer and nutrition advisor, I leant how simple it is to stay in shape without becoming a gym fanatic or elite athlete. I am neither, by the way!

So after 17 years of managing the swimming school and taking rowing classes at Newton Abbot Leisure Centre, I decided it was time to do something that would give me a different type of job satisfaction. Offering a service that directly influences someone’s wellbeing, seemed a good choice.

So, I studied the mechanics of exercise versus body shape and began to understand why so many people who have exercise routines that sometimes seem excessive, never see the changes they are hoping for. This led me to I set up Tessfit which tackles this conundrum. It is a real mix and match offering between nutrition and weight management advice, fitness classes and personal training. A combination which is proving to be highly successful for everyone involved.

I now work from home and run my classes and indoor Personal Training sessions at Venture Fitness in Newton Abbot. It is a great balance and not only do I love my work, I also get to spend more time with my family which is invaluable.​.

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