Problems with Sleeping? We can Help.

By Julie Mallon, Sleep Consultant

Why did you specialize in sleep?

My professional background is that of a midwife and British qualified health Visitor. These roles include supporting parents through their journey, including child development, child psychology, nutrition and sleep.  It was and is my experience, there is so much conflicting advice for parents. One of the most recurring questions I encounter is that of sleep. This is such an important issue, and sleep deprivation can be mentally, physically and emotionally draining. Additionally, the more I explore the science of sleep and its impact on a child’s growth and development, the more I am motivated to educate families on the benefits of sleep in all aspects of our health. I understand the value of sleep and it is extremely rewarding to give parents and their children their sleep back!

In view of the current climate we must not underestimate the benefit of sleep on our immune system. When we sleep the body produces and releases a protein that targets infection and inflammation, effectively creating an immune response.

There is a huge body of research documenting the impact of poor sleep and last year and the National Health Service in the UK released statistics for England showing sleep disorder admissions to hospital for under-16s was almost 10,000 last year

Research has also shown the 50% of the world population is sleep deprived in the first year of parenthood, and infant sleep disorders are reported cost the UK 40 billion a year – but this needn’t be the case. 92% of infant sleep problems are behavioural and can be solved. As previously stated, there is a wealth of research and innovation that now centres around sleep, and my evidence-based practice really makes a difference to parents and their children.

 

What three factors are essentials to have a good night’s sleep?

It is often our perception that sleep is unimportant and compromising our sleep quantity for extra hours of work or studying is the best option. However, Professor Walker, who is director of the Centre for Human Sleep Science at the University of California, Berkeley said: “No aspect of our biology is left unscathed by sleep deprivation”. This ultimately affects our productivity and or cognitive capacity to process information. Poor sleep also impacts our immune system and leads to us being more prone to infection. We therefore need to change our mind set and make sleep a priority. This includes some essential factors to support healthy sleep.

Paying attention to light, consistent bedtime routine, preparing your brain for sleep and paying attention to your diet and caffeine intake.

Often we focus on the amount of light we are exposed to at bedtime but we also need to understand the importance of daylight exposure.Night-time light exposure suppresses the production of melatonin, a hormone which controls our sleep and wake cycles. Therefore, night-time light exposure is detrimental to our sleep, and daytime light exposure is a necessity. Exposing yourself to intense outdoor light for at least 30 minutes a day helps keep a strong circadian rhythm.

 

  1. A consistent bedtime routine

A consistent wake up time and bedtime is essential. Try and be as possible even at the weekends. While it is true you can catch up on sleep in the short-term, you can’t in the long-term. You can disrupt your sleep patterns and circadian rhythm. This results in feeling exhausted as your body is adjusting to this up and down cycle. I thought it was interesting that despite the extreme benefits of restful sleep, research commissioned by mattress-maker’s has found that less than one in five Australians are getting a good night's sleep, with 47 percent of us admit to not having a sleep routine at all.

 

  1. Prepare your brain for sleep

You need to slow your brain down in the evening, so don’t give it anything to “work on” right before bed, or during the night. Having a ritual or routine for bedtime will also prepare the brain for sleep. Having dimmed lights, taking a relaxing bath all promote the flow of melatonin (the sleep-inducing hormone) and reading from a book will all ensure a deep restorative sleep. Screens should be eliminated at least 30 min to 2 hours before bed(even when on night mode).

Exercise also plays a role in good sleep quality but exercise too near bedtime can have the opposite effect and stimulate the brain, resulting in the brain being too active to sleep and then the bedtime is delayed.

 

  1. Pay attention to your diet and caffeine intake

Paying attention to our diet in the evening, promotes healthy sleep. Late night snacks can stimulate out digestive tract resulting in disrupted sleep. On the other hand, there are a growing number of studies linking sleep deprivation and lack of vitamin D. Foods high in vitamin D can have a positive effect on our sleep, including fatty fish and fish oil, egg yolks as well as fortified foods like dairy which many contain tryptophan- a chemical that tells our body to sleep. It is also recommended that we stop our caffeine intake at 2.00pm in order to have a good night’s sleep. Matthew Walker a neuroscientist and author of Why we sleep discovered that caffeine seriously disrupt the sleep quality even if the perception by the group studied was different.

 

What is the ideal room temperature for sleeping?

Most experts agree that the ideal temperature for sleep in somewhere between 60 and 72 degrees. However, you can experiment with the thermostat to see what’s right for you. A calm, relaxing sleep environment is imperative for uninterrupted sleep.

It is also important to be aware of your bed temperature as this also impacts your sleep and so paying attention to your mattress or mattress topper will allow the appropriate temperature for best quality sleep.

 

In your experience what are the most common issues for people not sleeping?

Lifestyle is a significant factor when it comes to poor sleep. Pressures of 21centuary living, dark deprived society and being connected 24/7 on line is all having a tremendous negative impact on our sleep.It is often our perception that sleep is unimportant and compromising our sleep quantity for extra hours of work or studying is the best option. However, lack of sleepaffects our productivity and or cognitive capacity to process information.

Poor sleep also impacts our immune system and leads to us being more prone to infection. When we don’t get enough sleep, we have difficulty focusing during the day. What we do learn and take away, we don’t remember as well. We also miss out on more deep sleep, the stage of sleep responsible for restoring and repairing our muscles and body tissue. As a result, our muscles ache more and we get exhausted easily.

We need to change our mind-set. To get more productivity for example, we have to sleep better – not the other way around.

Despite the extreme benefits of restful sleep, research commissioned by mattress-maker’s has found that less than one in five Aussies are getting a good night's sleep, with 47 percent of us admit to not having a sleep routine at all.

 

Can you talk to us about the Circadian Rhythm?

So significant is the understanding of our circadian rhythm that in 2017 3 doctors in America were awarded the Nobel prize for Medicine when their discoveries on the molecular mechanisms controlling circadian rhythms – in other words, the 24-hour body clock.

Our circadian rhythm is basically a 24-hour internal clock that is running in the background of your brain and cycles between sleepiness and alertness at regular intervals. It's also known as your sleep/wake cycle.  Circadian rhythms can influence hormone release, eating habits and digestion, body temperature, and other important bodily functions. Natural factors within the body produce circadian rhythms. However, signals from the environment also affect them. Light is a significant factor.  Exposure to natural light and the sun not only impacts your wake time in the morning but also determines the timings of your sleep and how restful your sleep is. Hence having a consistent wake up and bedtime is essential to maintain our circadian rhythm.

 

How can technology effect our sleep?

Whether it’s email, a video game, the Web, or TV, electronic devices keep us connected 24/7. The result is that we struggle from both falling asleep and sleeping well.

Here the  brainis overstimulated, its electrical activity increases and neurons start to become active -- the exact opposite of what should be happening before we sleep.

The light emitted from electronics is also at work against quality sleep. The small amounts of blue light from these devices delay the release of the sleep-inducing hormone melatonin, which in turn disrupts our sleep.

There is another area of technology that is often impacting out sleep and this is a facility on our phone- the snooze button! According to many researchers using the snooze buttons is preventing us from getting the restorative sleep we need. This is because much of the latter part of our sleep is comprised of Rapid Eye Movement(REM) or dream sleep. This is where restorative sleep takes place and the “snooze button “disrupts this part of our sleep.

On a final note, try and focus on what actions we can take to protect and promote our sleep.

When we respect our sleep, listens to our bodies and prioritize sleep – sleep will happen.

Sweet dreams.

 

Julie is a qualified sleep consultant, able to help with your and your childrens sleep problems, and available for consultations, to reach out to her please email: julie@nurturetosleep.com

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