Business Psychology: sleep your way to better health

Published in Suffolk Director Magazine, Winter 2018/19
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Business Psychology: sleep your way to better health

When it comes to taking care of your health and wellbeing, you already know that eating your five-a-day, avoiding processed foods, drinking water and exercising regularly go a long way to keeping you in good health. But, if you find yourself feeling run-down, struggling to focus, feeling irritable or binging on unhealthy food you may want to look at your sleep patterns.

In today’s fast-paced world, many of us forgo sleep and overextend ourselves to catch up with work and other responsibilities. Yet there is nothing more restorative than a good night’s sleep.

Sleep is important because many psychological and physiological processes occur during the night such as:

  • The rest and recovery of Internal organs, tissue repair, muscle growth and protein synthesis.

  • The release of hormones that help to regulate and control your appetite, stress, growth, metabolism and other bodily functions.

  • The consolidation of memories which allows for the creation and storage of new memories which is essential to learning.

The direct connection between sleep and health inevitably helps to improve your quality of life. As well as improving your mood, the benefits of quality sleep are many and range from increased energy, so you can make beneficial lifestyle choices and a strengthened immune system, to a heightened alertness, focus and creativity and increased libido.

There are many factors involved in the relationship between sleep and health. While it may be more difficult to scientifically prove that quality sleep improves health, the negative effects of sleep deprivation are widely documented, and include:

·         Weight gain.

·         Increased risk of chronic disease. As the immune system doesn’t function optimally, your body becomes more susceptible to stress. Chronic short sleep is also associated with hypertension, obesity, diabetes and cardiovascular disease.

·         Increased risk of accidents and injuries. When you’re exhausted, both physically and mentally, there is an increased risk of injuries, errors and accidents.

·         Decline in cognitive functions.  When you don’t get enough sleep, your mental performance suffers. Sleep loss has been shown to impair decision making, which may lead you to make choices that you wouldn’t make if rested.

·         Increased anxiety and trouble keeping your emotions in check. Increased feelings of irritability, anxiety, sadness and anger are common. You may even find that you’re more vulnerable to unprovoked bouts of laughter or tears

So how much sleep do you need?

The number of hours vary, depending on the individual and their age but the general guide for adults is to aim for seven to nine hours every night.

Try experimenting with your sleep patterns to find out what works best for you and your specific needs.

However, it’s important to remember that recreation isn’t rest. Sleep has lost its value into today’s hectic society. We feel compelled ‘to do’ but forget that we need to rest. Whilst many of us consider recreational activities such as sports or watching TV as rest, it’s important to understand that they aren’t.

The constant bombardment of energy in various forms: light, sound, movement and information; means our bodies’ natural rhythms are disrupted. Reaching for stimulants to keep us going, and then depending on relaxants to help us wind down at night creates a vicious cycle, and an unhealthy dependence, that can lead to the diminishment of our general health.

Fortunately, there are steps we can take to improve the quality of our sleep and give ourselves the rest we need to function.

Nutrition

What and when you eat affects your body’s natural ability to both energise and rest. By eating a variety of foods, we help to ensure that we are getting the nutrients we need to maintain our energy levels throughout the day. It is better to consume your largest meal in the middle of the day and a lighter meal in the evening as this takes full advantage of our body’s natural night-time repair process. From eating a variety of foods and limiting your intake of sugar, alcohol and caffeine, to having light evening meals and replacing late night snacking with gentle activities such as yoga or reading, these are all simple steps that aid digestion, helping your body to rest. It has also been suggested that eating two Kiwi fruits an hour before bed can help you sleep better, but try with caution, as Kiwi’s are a common allergen.

Environment

A good night’s sleep is helped by a peaceful bedroom. You could paint your walls a calming colour, use an aromatherapy diffuser, or even invest in a new mattress. There are also several easy and low-cost ways to ensure that your bedroom is conducive to deep sleep. These include clearing out the clutter as it stresses your mind. Removing electronics such as phones and TVs, as these emit ‘blue light’ which affects your body’s production of melatonin. For those of you that use your mobiles as an alarm, then buy an old-fashioned alarm clock. Also important is reducing your exposure to light and sound, so invest in blackout curtains or an eye mask, and use a fan (for white noise), earplugs or noise-cancelling headphones.

Daily rhythms

Our bodies take cues from our actions. What we eat, when we eat, what we do and when we do it are all part of an intricate system of signals that our brain uses to regulate all it needs to do for us to thrive and survive. Honouring these rhythms is vital to our wellbeing. So, some things you can do to train the mind include:

  • Creating a bedtime routine. Going to bed and waking up at a similar time each day can help the body get into a healthy rhythm.

  • Experimenting with restorative evening activities such as meditation, yoga, or being intimate with your partner are all relaxing activities to help you prepare for bedtime.

  • Tracking your sleep habits. Sleep trackers are wearable devices that typically monitor heart rate, breathing patterns and movement while you sleep. Exploring your sleeping habits can help identify any adjustments that may be needed to your routine or environment.

  • Reducing ‘busy brain’ at night. You may find it helpful to keep a journal and pen near you bed. If you think of something, jot it down, knowing that it’s safe to forget about it until morning.

  • Keeping a sleep journal. Note what you eat and what you do from about 6pm until you go to bed and look for correlations with how you sleep, then adjust your diet and routine accordingly.

Often the missing link to a healthy lifestyle may just be a good night’s sleep so taking steps towards improving your sleep is essential for optimal health.

Sweet dreams!

Christine Jones is a holistic health coach based in Suffolk delivering 1-2-1 health coaching programmes. If you would like to find out more about her FREE Jump Start My Health introductory session, then visit: christinejones.online

 

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