03 January 2020
In her latest blog for us, Beth Britton writes about sleeping problems and ways to get a better night’s sleep
After the Christmas and New Year celebrations, today’s Festival of Sleep Day is likely to be an appealing idea for many of us. Sleep, in common with other essential bodily functions, is easy to take for granted, but if sleep becomes a problem it can very quickly begin to dominate your life.
I know this only too well as an insomniac. Insomnia – a difficulty in falling or staying asleep – is characterised as acute if it’s related to a brief period of stress in your life, or chronic if it goes on for three nights per week and lasts for more than three months.
At the height of my insomnia last year I was only getting 1.5 hours of sleep a night. My body felt awful in a way it never had before – physically and mentally I was barely functioning. Those long nights awake also made me feel incredibly lonely, even though statistically I was far from being the only person in the UK struggling to sleep as a third of UK citizens are believed to experience insomnia during their lifetimes.
What causes sleeping problems?
Lots of different factors can contribute to sleeping problems, including stress, the bedroom environment, the things we eat and drink (particularly caffeine and alcohol) and the side-effects of medication. Good quality sleep can also become harder to achieve as we age, often due to more frequent night-time wakings and changes in the type of sleep we get, most notably the loss of non-REM (Rapid Eye Movement or dream) sleep. Many poor sleepers compensate for bad nights by napping in the daytime, but that alone can become a habit that makes night-time sleeping harder.
Physical health problems (especially any conditions that cause pain) and mental health problems (including anxiety and depression) are also leading causes of poor sleep. Dementia is a particularly notable example of a condition that can cause havoc with sleep, upsetting the internal body clock that governs our sleep (leaving some people with dementia believing it’s time to get up in the middle of the night), and causing many other symptoms that interfere with sleeping, including hallucinations.
How can you sleep better?
Following ‘The 10 Commandments of Sleep’ is a good first step. Adjusting medication routines may also help, as well as practicing meditation, yoga and deep breathing to relax yourself before bed. Some people benefit from therapies like CBT (Cognitive Behavioural Therapy), while other people may consider less orthodox options like purchasing a gravity blanket. There are more ideas in this booklet from The Sleep Council.
I find it’s my busy mind that stops me sleeping, so to combat this my night-time routine now consists of low lighting, no screens and relaxation as bedtime approaches, a warm shower, a light snack (I get hungry at night), a magnesium supplement, and listening to a sleep hypnosis app once I’m in bed. I aim for the same bedtime and wake-up time, stick to decaffeinated drinks all day, use a sleep tracker and listen to sleep stories if I’m awake in the night.
I’m lucky that I have my family around me to support me with my sleep, and for the people who have live-in care from Promedica24 they benefit from having a trained home care worker available to provide support at any time of the day or night. Generally, the benefits of night-time support are often overlooked, but given that sleep is essential for our bodies to repair themselves physically and mentally – and the effects of not sleeping can be so debilitating – I believe this aspect of care should be given much greater prominence.
As F. Scott Fitzgerald said:
“The worst thing in the world is to try to sleep and not to.”
About the author:
Beth Britton is an award-winning content creator, consultant, trainer, mentor, campaigner and speaker who is an expert in ageing, health and social care https://www.bethbritton.com.
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