Last year I was asked to deliver a keynote speech and four workshops for 100 carers who worked for a charity. The event was in London, so I travelled up from Cornwall the day before and stayed with one of my friends, who happened to live close to the venue. We decided to get a takeaway and on the way back to her house picked up a beverage, she chose a beer and I chose a Dr Pepper. I didn’t want to feel at all hungover so opted for the sugar kick instead.
What I failed to remember is that Dr Pepper also contains caffeine, and as I lay awake all night, I cursed myself for making such a careless error!
Matthew Walker is a neuroscientist and sleep expert who researches the impact sleep can have on our brain and body. He states that the phrase ‘sleep while you’re dead’ has very real implications, finding in his research that depriving yourself of sleep can actually shorten your life. Walker suggests that the average adult needs between seven and nine hours of sleep per night, but in reality, research suggests that on average we’re only getting five to six hours.
There’s a huge array of implications for not getting enough sleep. It affects your ability to remember new information and concentrate. It can affect your mental health with the NHS claiming that ‘chronic sleep debt may lead to long-term mood disorders like depression and anxiety’. You’re also more likely to have an accident at home, work or on the road if you’ve not had enough sleep.
Walker states that getting enough sleep each night is the best health insurance anyone could need. He states that sleep is the foundation for good health and self-preservation. Yet unlike other healthy choices there’s a lot of shame attached to getting a good night’s sleep. We are proud to boast about our 5-mile run or the salad we’ve had for lunch, but if we claim to need 8 hours sleep each night, people assume we’re lazy.
So how can we ensure a decent nights sleep and make it part of our daily self-care practice?
These are Matthew Walkers ideas which he suggested in an interview with Dr Chatterjee on his podcast Feel Better Live More
- Only drink caffeine in the mornings – if you have a coffee at midday a quarter of that caffeine will still be in your system at midnight. opt for decaf drinks! i.e no Dr Pepper before bed!!
- Create a bedtime routine. Go to bed at the same time each night and get up at the same time in the morning. Leave a healthy window of time for you to acquire the sleep your body needs.
- Avoid looking at blue light. The sun is a source of blue light as is any digital screen or LED bulb. If you’re bedroom is filled with artificial blue light your body will think it’s still daytime, so switch those lights down low and tell your body you’re ready for some sleep!
- Sedation is not sleep. Avoid alcohol too! Alcohol affects the quality of your sleep, so avoid those nightcaps!
- Associate your bed with sleep. If you’re laying awake for longer than 20 minutes get up and read a book, only go back to bed when your body feels sleepy. Avoid eating at this time too, otherwise you’ll start to associate no sleep with snacks. (Something I’m very guilty of!)