Why sleep? And why the need for a sleep clinic?
It seems like a fairly stupid question but neuroscientists are only just starting to understand the importance of a regular good night of sleep.
Some people take the view that sleep is a waste of one third of their lives. But what is becoming increasingly clear is that sleep is perhaps the most important pillar of our wellbeing. In his great book, “Why we sleep”, by neuroscientist Michael Walker, he explains the research behind sleep science. The leading researchers in this area have concluded that getting less than 8 hours of sleep a night, on a regular basis, has a significant negative impact upon our wellbeing levels.
Here are some of the major findings from the research:
- Whether you are young, old or middle aged we need 8 hours of sleep to rest, re program and re vitalise the brain
- It is not true that we need less sleep as we age
- Sleep phases through the night switching from NREM to REM and back in cycles (Non Rapid Eye Movement sleep and Rapid Eye Movement sleep) . Typically there are 5 cycles per night each containing varying proportions of REM and NREM sleep
- The NREM sleep is longer in each cycle at the start of the night giving way to REM dominance in the cycle at the end of the night.
- Both REM and NREM are essential to effective memory storage, accurate processing of information, creativity, emotional regulation and synaptic pruning (letting go of non valuable memories)
Getting enough sleep?
Some of the potential downsides of getting less than 8 hours sleep on a regular basis:
- Reduced ability to remember tasks
- Relationship to diabetes
- Significant increase in chance of being involved in a car accident or accident at work
- Relationship between sleep deprivation and increased body fat
- Less creativity
- Less ability to regulate our emotions
- More addictive tendencies
- Relationship with lower life expectancy
- Higher rates of depression, anxiety, schizophrenia and a whole host of other disorders
- Lower rates of subjective wellbeing (happiness)
- Increased likelihood of cancer
- Increased likelihood of cardiovascular disease
What can you do about it?
- Firstly don’t stress about it! We all have times in our lives when sleep doesn’t come naturally. Try and develop a relaxed attitude to sleep. The more worried we become about it the harder it seems to come. What the researchers haven’t been able to understand yet is the preventative effect on our brains of being a new parent, enjoying a good sex life or meditation techniques. All these things may counteract the damaging impact of getting less than 8 hours sleep a night
- Limit the amount of visual stimulation in the few hours before bedtime
- Limit the mount of bright light you experience in the evenings
- Cut way down on caffeine and limit it to before 1pm – caffeine has a half life of up to 7 hours and therefore a strong coffee at 4pm still has up to half of its sleep depriving potential at 11pm
- Cut back on alcohol and ensure you are alcohol free most nights – it has a damaging impact on REM sleep
- Do deep diaphragmatic breathing before you go to bed and again if you wake up – for example breathe in for 4, hold for 4 and out for 8 OR place a heavy weight on your tummy and focus on the tummy rising and falling. This gets us into the habit of taking long slow diaphragmatic breaths. The longer, slower and deeper the breath, the lower the amygdala, reducing fight flight chemicals and calming a busy mind which may be overly focused on worries, deficits and dangers.
- Make wellbeing a priority – regular massages raise oxytocin levels and help ease tension
- Reduce the amount of sugar in your diet – high levels of sugar intake are associated with raised blood pressure and has been found to damage brain tissue and connectivity
- Ensure your evening meal portion size is small
- Take regular exercise
- Be in nature – there is a huge body of research supporting the health benefits of being in nature
- Keep technology out of the bedroom OR at least switch to airplane mode a few hours before bedtime
Your next step to getting great sleep
There are so many great techniques, which we can learn to aid sleep. These include guided imagery, tapping, self-hypnosis, auto suggestion, breath work and mindfulness
Breathe London Waterloo timetable – David on Wednesdays and Fridays, Dorinda on Tuesdays
Breathe London Covent Garden timetable – David on Mondays and Tuesdays,
Find out more and book an appointment with our Sleep clinic therapists: