The makings of a positive friendship


Sleep: One of Life’s Essentials

We’ve been looking at all thing’s diet, nutrition and lifestyle this month. So I’m taking this opportunity to cover the one basic biological need, that we all require in order to maintain a healthy lifestyle: Sleep

Sleep is one of those things that you don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone. Before having children, before doing shift work, before there were issues in life that you just couldn’t stop thinking about…. Before all of those things when sleep would and should come naturally. But how many times have you woken up thinking “I’m definitely going to bed early tonight”, or “I wish I could just stop waking up in the middle of the night”. Is it laughable to even imagine saying “I feel so refreshed. That was a great night’s sleep”?!

One of the core areas I cover with a first-time client (and something I check in with clients regularly) is sleep. “Tell me about your sleep” is a loaded question and gives me so much information. Of course, there are a myriad of reasons why people have issues with sleep. Some are easily or naturally corrected but others take time and require a person to commit to working on other areas in their life in order to address their sleep deficit. The main reason I ask though, is because not having healthy sleep (no matter what the reason), is detrimental to our physical, emotional and psychological health.

What does good sleep look like and why do we need it?

The amount of sleep needed does vary for person to person; however according to the National Sleep Foundation; the recommended amount of sleep for an adult is 7-9 hours. Babies, children and teenagers need greater amounts due to the periods of growth, learning and development.

Healthy sleep is critical for everyone. When we sleep our body will restore, rejuvenate, repair and regulate; and the experiences of our day are processed and consolidated in our memory.

So why is it so hard to find a good night’s sleep?

There are SO many reasons for a poor night’s sleep: neighbours’ dog is barking all night; an unwell toddler needing cuddles throughout the night; you had a nap during the day so finding it difficult to get to sleep. These sorts of reasons are understandable and albeit the toddler (which I promise you, this time will pass!); are events that may be explained and you can hope for a better night’s sleep tomorrow.

Poor sleep hygiene, trauma, drugs/alcohol, some medications, stress, nightmares/night terrors, anxiety and depression can all have major impacts on sleep quality and quantity. And unfortunately, when our sleep is not great, this can cause a catch 22 effect whereby we worry about not getting a decent night’s sleep and in doing so, create anxiety around even the thought of sleep; which in turn leads to significant sleep difficulties and patterns. And I’m sure we all know from experience what it’s like to have a terrible night’s sleep: difficulty concentrating, irritable/grumpy, sluggish, lethargic, unmotivated. On the more serious scale, when people have insomnia this can lead to:

  • Health issues such as headaches/migraine, digestive problems
  • Very low mood
  • Compromised judgement and a risk of making avoidable errors
  • Difficulties socially and with key relationships
  • Difficulties with attention

How can we sleep better?

The good news is that we can do many things in order to influence our sleep:

  • Limit or avoid caffeine and alcohol
  • Ensure your bedroom is dark and quiet. No blue screen/technology
  • Ensure your bed is used only for sleep and intimacy. This creates a strong association that the bed is the place for sleep
  • Have a consistent sleep and wake routine; even on the weekends.
  • Regular exercise (however not just before sleep)
  • Mindfulness, meditation and relaxation techniques
  • Notice your stress and anxiety levels. If you are feeling like your thoughts won’t switch off try a distraction technique such as counting backwards from 300 by 3’s. It most likely won’t put you to sleep but it will redirect your thoughts and enable you to drift off. Other ideas are getting up and writing stressful thoughts down and leaving them; sitting in another room until you feel settled to go back to bed; and visualising a beautiful, calming scene such as lying on a hammock under a palm tree and listening to the ocean.

Sleep is essential to our overall health and wellbeing. If you suffer from chronic sleep disturbances and this is affecting your life, I urge you to see your GP who may refer you to see a psychologist. At Shoalhaven Psychology we can assist with treating insomnia and more importantly identify any underlying issues; and help you get your zz’s and your groove back.


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