The importance of sleep cannot be understated, particularly for us runners. Certified Sleep Coach Max Kirsten takes us through the reasons behind this, and recommends steps you can take to get a better night's sleep.
The importance of sleep cannot be understated. As a sleep coach, most of my work involves helping people to overcome insomnia. Feeling constantly tired, poor health, difficulty concentrating, anxiety and weight gain, are just some of the classic physiological symptoms caused by sleep deprivation.
I believe anxiety, in particular, is one of the principal causes of difficulty in falling and staying asleep. In order to help the restless sleeper counter this, I teach a mindfulness-based autogenic sleep training technique called the ABC of better sleep at my clinic. However, it is essential that those who sleep poorly identify all possible external causes affecting how well they fall asleep. The sleep hygiene list I take clients through addresses these causes - from sensitivity to noise, light, feeling too hot, bed and pillow comfort, physical pain, partner snoring and so on.
Sleep time is for sleeping, resting and drifting…
Living in the 21st-century presents the added challenge of over-stimulation from technology - including gaming, racing, endless checking of emails, and compulsive social media use. In particular, the ping of a post or message from Instagram, Facebook, Twitter or Whatsapp has us constantly reaching for our phones. In an ‘always on’ society, our sleep is distracted by smartphones, computer screens, binging on box sets, all of this relentlessly bombarding our brains. As a result, we have become disconnected from our natural biological rhythms. The natural circadian rhythm of sunrise and sunsets and the slow wind down in front of a good fire has been almost lost, replaced by constant light, even worse blue light from LED screens that confuses the brain as to when exactly sleep time is.
So, what can we do to establish a better sleep pattern (sometimes called sleep architecture)?
Ban the phone
Firstly, I recommend getting an alarm clock and banning mobile phones from bedrooms. This ‘digital detox’ will help reset your relationship with this addictive and seemingly limitless channel. There is even MRI research which shows that simply looking at an iPhone next to the bed with a blank screen over-stimulates the brain as to what it is capable of giving you were you to pick it up and check it yet again!
Reduce bright light
Slowly reducing bright light at least an hour before bed is another way of signalling to your body that it’s time for sleep.
Get to bed early
Sleep time is for sleeping, resting and drifting. Going to bed earlier, at least just to relax and rest if you can't yet fall asleep, will also help you settle better. Ideally go to bed at the same time every night, weekday and weekend. Once you’ve established this pattern, if you break it, it will be easier to get back to the pattern.
Say no to caffeine and alcohol
Avoid caffeine after midday, and alcohol can also interfere with your sleep patterns, so best to steer clear of that nightcap as well.
The disadvantages of not getting enough sleep
By now, you might be thinking, ‘well, just how bad can poor sleep really be for my health?’. The answer is, according to the latest research, that it can be very debilitating to your health. Sleep experts tell us that adults need between seven and nine hours of sleep. Under seven hours sleep, a night can not only shorten your life, it can also increase your chances of getting cancer, diabetes, Alzheimer's, heart attacks and strokes. Furthermore, adults aged 45 or older, sleeping less than six hours a night three times or more a week, are more likely to have a heart attack or stroke compared with those sleeping seven or eight hours. And, in the spring, when the clocks jump forward and we lose an hour's sleep, research shows that there is a 24% increase in heart attacks (this risk decreases in winter to 21%).
Sleep studies also show that only getting 5 to 6 hours sleep each night over a 3 year period shows a 200% increase in coronary artery calcification. Insufficient sleep increases stress chemicals including cortisol and adrenaline which can cause vascular damage. A poor night's sleep could also lower your immunity by 70%.
Better sleep = better health
In essence, we could say that more sleep equals better health. You’ll feel better and less anxious. You may even start to lose weight, and find that your performance at work improves. This improvement also extends to when you’re driving, riding a bike, and even running whether or not that's competitive. In fact, sleep plays a major role in athletic performance and competitive results. The quality and amount of sleep athletes get is often the key to their winning in ANY sport!
Good sleep helps the body and the mind to recover from the day before. Rest, restore, renew.
Getting better sleep will improve your health, fitness, your resiliency to overcome viruses, and if sleep is cut short the body doesn't have time to repair memory, consolidate memory and release essential hormones. REM sleep, in particular, provides energy for the brain and body. Good sleep helps the body and the mind to recover from the day before. Rest, restore, renew.
Many poor sleepers find it difficult to relax and to switch off. Somehow we can forget how simple the process is, and by trying to sleep can often make it worse. Learning to relax and let go is the key that all good sleepers know how to do effortlessly. They just close their eyes, take a deep breath and drift off… usually smiling…
Do you have a sleep problem, or even chronic insomnia, or you're just not getting the kind of sleep you wish you could? I teach sleep one-to-one at my clinic and regularly do sleep performance workshops teaching business teams how to get a better sleep to perform better at work. Visit www.thesleepcoach.co.uk.