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As I was lying awake the other night I began to think about the value of sleep, and equally importantly the detrimental effects of inadequate sleep. Everyone requires different amounts of sleep but generally around 7-9 hours per night with more for children and teenagers.
Sleep is a restorative process, which is thought to include clearance of toxins that build up during the day and hormonal changes which can contribute to muscle growth and healing during the night. Chronic lack of sleep, or indeed one sleepless night, can lead to ‘fogginess’, poor mood, irritability or other forms of impaired brain functioning.
1. Stress is a major cause of poor sleep and almost no-one right now is ‘immune’ to the stresses of Covid-19, either the illness itself, or the impact of the disease on our work, lifestyle and families. Acknowledging that we ‘are all in this together’ can be helpful to some people as can frank and open discussion with peers, colleagues or family on the personal issues that you are dealing with. If you are feeling particularly overwhelmed, a consultation with a GP is an appropriate first step.
2. Bad habits. During the Covid-19 crisis our work and home lives are increasingly entwined and it is important to try to delineate the two. Switching off your work phone and avoiding work emails after hours are two obvious, but often forgotten, strategies. Eating dinner at a regular time as well as factoring in a daily exercise session is helpful. Coffee purchases have emerged as an ‘essential service’ as judged by the queues outside coffee shops each day. Whilst a morning coffee is probably beneficial, it is important to avoid excess caffeine or alcohol late into the day.
3. Travel (not really an issue at the moment) can be a cause of poor sleep patterns, and preventative strategies are required. These include timing of flights, stop-overs, scheduling of meetings if it is work related travel, changing clocks to the ‘new’ time zone and matching your meals and activities to the new time zone not the old.
4. Medications. A number of medications, including supplements, have a negative impact on sleep. If you are taking prescription medications or self-medicating with over the counter products it is worthwhile considering if these could be affecting your sleep.
1. Try to go to bed around the same time each evening, allowing for 7-9 hours sleep until you need to wake up. Try to avoid the ‘Netflix binges’ late into the night.
2. Have a regular routine which includes ‘down time’ in the hour or two before you go to sleep. Down time can be very variable and can include reading a book, having a bath, watching TV or listening to music. Down time is not checking work emails, watching live news or playing high intensity interactive video games.
3. Avoid caffeine after midday if you are sensitive to caffeine. Everyone has different sensitivities, but it is easy to test out if a coffee in the afternoon or evening has an effect on your sleep. If so, cut it out, and substitute the coffee for herbal tea or hot chocolate.
4. Exercise during the day but avoid a heavy workout in the evenings as this can cause too much stimulation with negative impact on sleep. Government restrictions allow us to exercise with another non-family member, so use the opportunity to have a ‘walking catch-up’ with a friend or colleague.
5. Wake up at the similar times each morning even if you do not have to get up and rush out of the door to work or to do the ‘school run’.
6. Consider practicing mindfulness or meditation, or if that is too challenging, listen to a podcast if you are unable to ‘switch off’ from your thoughts. There is plenty of evidence that mindfulness and meditation can assist with sleep as well as many other health parameters. The thing to remember is that this is not a skill that is easy to learn and practice, persistence and patience are required.
Written by Dr Anik Shawdon, Sports & Exercise Medicine Physician consulting at Physiosports Brighton.