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S – How to get better sleep

The importance of sleep for stress management and performance
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Let’s talk now about the S in self-care sleep. If you’re trying to buffer yourself against stress and you can possibly improve your quality and quantity of sleep, then you should start with that. Sleep at night is like giving ourselves an MOT, it benefits our immune system, it enhances our physical and mental capacity to deal with the stresses and strains of life. People ask, well, how long should I sleep? What’s the quota? The current advice is between 7 and 9 hours per 24 hours. Though we should say, our capacity to require sleep seems to reduce as we go through each life stage. So we’ll generally seem to need less sleep as we get older.
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However, we’d say this, don’t judge your sleep requirements against that of anybody else. Find out what feels right for you. And if you feel you need 7 hours sleep a night, and for some reason you’re only getting 6 then at the end of a week, you’ve deliberately restricted your sleep by one night. What can we do to improve the quality and quantity of sleep? Well, we would suggest using the acronym HEAD, Get your head right for sleep. So let’s go through that. H is for health, particularly pain management, there is no point in doing anything else if we’re living with pain or pain medication is affecting our sleep.
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A lot of people think they’ve got sleep issues when in fact, it’s largely to do with other factors like managing health. So you may need to get some medical support for this. E is for environment. We should have the best quality mattress we can afford. We should try and sleep in a quiet room. We should minimise our exposure to light in the count down to wanting to go to sleep. And hopefully restricted completely between the hours of 11 at night and 4 in the morning. A is for attitude. An attitude is about having a pre-sleep routine.
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If we’ve got a very busy, active mind as we’re trying to get to sleep, it is probably worth trying to do something about this 2 or 3 hours before we go to bed, organising our thoughts, writing to do lists. And then we have a countdown, maybe the last 20 minutes before going to bed is about preparing to sleep, trying to unchallenge our mind. And whilst lying in bed it’s often worth trying to focus on our body, trying to slow down our breathing and just feel a gentle muscular relaxation. D is for day time management. Actually, the moment we wake up, we can almost start to prepare for the following nights sleep.
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A good strategy is to try and expose our eyes to natural sunlight, certainly before about 10 o’clock in the morning. 10 minutes of natural sunlight, ideally outdoors, not through windows, which can dilute the effectiveness of it, can help reset our body clocks for the day ahead, including the release of melatonin, which will occur some 16 hours later, and which will help us get to sleep. But daytime management is also about activity. And we should try and do any high-intensity activity earlier in the day or as far away from going to sleep as possible. Time and type of of caffeine is affected as well.
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So if people feel that they have the negative effects of caffeine, we would suggest you reduce this after about 2 o’clock in the afternoon. In fact, sleeplessness is twice as high in people who use caffeine after this time in the day. Nicotine, we would suggest that no one smokes, but certainly from an a sleep perspective, you’d want your last exposure to nicotine about 2 hours before wanting to go to sleep. Alcohol similarly, about 4 hours before wanting to go to sleep. And you’d want your last meal of the day to be as light as possible. So it’s a simple model, health, environment, attitude, and day time management.
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