The Truth About Sleep

The Truth About SleepConsidering that sleep is the single biggest activity undertaken by every human being on the planet it is remarkable that we find ourselves misunderstanding its essential function in our wellbeing and happiness. Here are some important myth busters on the way we think about sleep….

MYTH 1: I can catch up on lost sleep

Most adults need between seven and nine hours of sleep a night. But this isn’t simply for rest and rejuvenation.

Sleep is also designed to balance the timely function of our organs, process and file the memories and information we’ve collected throughout the day and assist in managing our emotions. If we accumulate a large amount of lost sleep we cannot get it back somehow.

And there are consequences.

Michael Mosley, MD, of the BBC and the University of Surrey Sleep Research Centre set up a two-week sleep study that compared the effects of six-and-a-half versus seven-and-a-half hours of sleep.

Their findings are reported in the BBC story:

Computer tests revealed that most of them struggled with mental agility tasks when they had less sleep, but the most interesting results came from the blood tests that were run.

Dr Simon Archer and his team at Surrey University were particularly interested in looking at the genes that were switched on or off in our volunteers by changes in the amount that we had made them sleep.

“We found that overall there were around 500 genes that were affected,” Archer explained..

When the volunteers cut back from seven-and-a-half to six-and-a-half hours’ sleep a night, genes that are associated with processes like inflammation, immune response and response to stress became more active. The team also saw increases in the activity of genes associated with diabetes and risk of cancer. The reverse happened when the volunteers added an hour of sleep.

In short, it seems there’s no quick cure to “make up” for an hour of lost sleep. As troubling as it may be to think that a morning cup of coffee cannot cure all the effects of a late night, it’s nice to know that an extra hour of sleep isn’t purely an indulgence.

Tip: Stick to a sleep schedule of the same bedtime and wake up time, even on the weekends. This helps to regulate your body’s clock and could help you fall asleep and stay asleep for the night. (See more at: National Sleep Foundation)

MYTH 2: I don’t have time to rest.  Life is too fast and demanding.

Not true! Although at times many of us feel overwhelmed with our overly-scheduled lifestyles, dashing here to there on business, exercise, hobbies, or with our children’s activities, if we remember to prioritise our health and plan in time to rest we can actually get more done, more efficiently. Sleeping for longer at night has been shown to increase our productivity the next day.

Getting enough good quality sleep is the key to accomplishing more.

In fact, according to the Harvard Medical School, 2013, sleep deprivation cost USA companies $63.2 billion in lost productivity.

“We were shocked by the enormous impact insomnia has on the average person’s life,” said lead author Ronald Kessler, a psychiatric epidemiologist and professor of health care policy at Harvard Medical School. “It’s an underappreciated problem. Americans are not missing work because of insomnia. They are still going to their jobs but accomplishing less because they’re tired. In an information-based economy, it’s difficult to find a condition that has a greater effect on productivity.”

Tip: Make a commitment to ensure you get a minimum of seven hours of restful sleep each night. Doing this will increase your chances of wellbeing physical health and mental clarity as well as maximise your productivity at work.

MYTH 3: When I’m sleeping my brain is resting.

Again, not true. In fact it is quite the opposite. Studies have shown that sleep plays an important role in learning generalised skills and in stabilising and protecting memory function. Tests in Chicago compared performance after a morning of training resulted in an improvement in performance of 8%. However after 12 waking hours, the improvement dropped to 4%. After a night’s sleep there was increase in performance by 10% (study conducted by the University of Chicago 2008).

“Sleep consolidated learning by restoring what was lost over the course of a day following training and by protecting what was learned against subsequent loss,” said Howard Nusbaum, Professor of Psychology at the University of Chicago, and a researcher in the study. “These findings suggest that sleep has an important role in learning generalized skills in stabilizing and protecting memory.”

Tip: When learning new skills, be sure to follow the day with a good night’s rest. Doing so will help your brain to retain and recall the information and skills learned in the future.

Getting enough and a good enough quality of sleep will help to increase your life expectancy, improve your wellbeing, consolidate learning, lower stress and anxiety, and increase productivity.

Are you finding it hard to get enough sleep? Do you suffer with lack of energy throughout or at specific times of the day? There’s lots of ways we help people with sleep issues here at The Wellbeing Centre. Whether you suffer with general insomnia or suffer from specific sleep issues like narcolepsy, restless leg syndrome and sleep apnoea, we can help.

Click here to request more information on how we can help you get more and better quality sleep.

We’d love to hear from you. If you’ve got any questions, thoughts or tips on sleep, please add them in the comments below.

Claire Bushell

Director of The Wellbeing Centre, hypnobirthing antenatal teacher & Nikken Wellness Consultant, Claire Bushell is passionate about helping people live healthy, happy lives by improving & maintaining their wellbeing. She has a particular interest in supporting & developing therapists and raising awareness of complementary therapies.

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  • Diana Diana says:

    Great reminder about sleep. As a mum I understand how important sleep is and what a huge impact sleep deprivation has on one’s life. However most nights getting 6 hours uninterrupted sleep for me is not easy with a toddler that still wakes up through the night. I have tried “catching up” with sleep but of course the quality of sleep is not the same. So I had to find ways of helping me cope from meditation to energy healing and crystals and magnetic technologies to make sure when I do get to sleep it’s good quality sleep that helps my body regenerate and recharge. Getting my brain to switch off was the difficult part…still is some nights.

    • Thank you, Diana. I’m in awe of how much you get done whilst being a fantastic mum to your ‘cheeky monkey’. I know you don’t always find it easy but you must have something figured out to help you. I have to say, your meditations always help me rest better afterwards (and sometimes even to snore during them – sorry!) and I always have the most amazing experiences during them. And yes, I’m certainly with you on the subject of the magnetic technologies to help make the most of the sleep time that you have. Sleeping on my magnetic mattress, I have confidence that I’ll got to sleep straight away no matter how much I’ve got on my mind and that I’ll get that deep sleep that we all need so much in order to process our emotions, etc.

  • Really interesting that the extra hour makes all the difference. Definitely trying to stick to the same bedtime and waking up time helps. Although when we’re worried or stressed out it can be hard to get to sleep. Clearing and balancing your energy field can really help. Many of my clients report ‘sleeping like a log’ after a healing session.

    • I’m sure they do, Lindsay! Your sessions are amazing. Clearing and balancing the energy fields helps to reduce stress and anxiety. The worries just seem to float away and that makes so much difference when it comes to going to sleep. And yes, isn’t it amazing that just one extra hour can make so much difference! It’s a great thought and certainly justifies a little extra lie-in over the long weekend..

  • Helen Peedell Helen Peedell says:

    Really interesting blog. Sleep is vital to our well-being and as to why we don’t sleep well needs investigating. Reflexology can assist with balancing and de-stressing the body and, therefore, inducing a good night of sleep and this is normally the first thing clients notice. Kinesiology will look further into the times of waking which relate to specific organs and this is then addressed. It could be an emotional issue which can be helped with a Bach Flower Remedy or it could be an electrical, nutritional or structural issue. Whichever therapy you choose, there is definitely something out there to help you get a better night’s sleep and, therefore, a more productive day to follow!

    • Thanks Helen. I love the concept of kinesiology being able to find out issues that are troubling us that our conscious mind may not even be aware of. And I’ve come to understand just how powerful the flower remedies can be. Love the reflexology too – what a great combination of therapies you offer!

  • A great reminder on the importance for all of us in getting good quality sleep. In our busy lives it is so easy for sleep deprivation to creep up, unnoticed at first and then become a general feeling of sluggishness and lethargy until it impacts every aspect of our day to day lives. Sometimes we have stressful things going on which cause us to be anxious and worried, plus our always on culture gives us little down time to just rest, contemplate and rejuvenate.

    Through working with an NLP therapist, you can discover and understand how the pattern of disrupted or no sleep got established and also explore and uncover the causes of anxiety and stress. NLP based therapy can help you to learn ways to calm the body, clear the mind and re-establish healthy sleep patterns.

    • It’s thought that insomnia affects one in every three people in the UK (NHS Choices>Insomnia). That’s a huge number of people impacted by this. I’m sure this is a big part of the reason so many people feel stressed so often although of course the stress itself leads to difficulties with sleep! It’s a good job there are plenty of tools at hand for people to break out of these vicious cycles. Your Fresh Air Fridays are great for this as well 😉

  • Sheila Bond Sheila Bond says:

    Thank you Claire for your fascinating blog. I can well believe that insomnia affects one in three people in the UK. If we feel stressed, sleep is often one of the first aspects of our health to be disrupted. As you say, there are plenty of tools on hand to help and it may be helpful to try more than one – we might benefit from counselling to explore the cause of our stress and then a relaxing therapy to help us to calm down.
    My clients have often reported that mindful meditation techniques help them to sleep better, particularly the Body Scan. We often lie down for this practice and it teaches us to be aware of what is happening in our minds and bodies – although we are not consciously trying to relax, the awareness can help us to let go of the tensions in our body and the thoughts that are whirring around in our heads. This can help, as Diana said earlier, in ‘getting the brain to switch off’.

  • Hi Claire, I have been interested in sleep and the lack of sleep, which used to affect my clients that I met when I was an OT and still affects the people that I see today as a Sophrologist. From my working experience, sleep deprivation has many underlying causes. Ranging from physical pain, posture, diet, breathlessness, the quality of the mattress, the bedroom environment, noise and pollution. As well as the more emotional and mental health issues that can affect people. As an OT I would make recommendations about changing mattresses, buying “special pillows” to help wth posture at night and altering the layout of the bedroom.

    As a Sophrologist, the body based techniques used which “releases tensions” from the body, lend themselves very nicely to helping people prepare for sleep. These techniques are practised for a few minutes during the day. The techniques help people get to sleep, reduces the need to wake up at night and reduces early morning waking. The techniques are very simple, quick to do and effective.

    A tip I would give to people would be to release tensions or anything of excess, pressure or overwhelm at regular times during the day. For example do the pumping technique on the hour every hour and just before your sleep at night.

    Another tip I would say, is to remove things that make you feel sad in your bedroom and declutter it. I did help quite a few of my client’s with this, as many did not have family to help them. It’s important to create a space of rest and calm in your bedroom.

    Another tip.Very simple. Practice and repetition of the body based techniques. …..to reap the benefits.

    I’d just like to add that the reason I started Create A Space For Rest and Releasing Tensions to Sleep Better was to help people improve the quality of their sleep. Getting “in touch” with the body and connecting with the body, not just the mind is important to release “stuff”. All the gentle, easy movement postures in the 8 week course is the baseline for sleeping better.

  • I really enjoyed your blog about the sleep and the myths surrounding it. My main thoughts about sleep are that stress and anxieties can play a large part in sleep issues, whether that is the ability to go to bed in the first place or waking up in the night. Sometimes we are not even aware of the build up that is going on inside ourselves – inside our minds – and don’t understand why we have issues. I have treated many people with this – I discover what information is playing in their subconscious minds or even conscious minds that needs sorting out and create a place of peace deep inside.

    We also have that habitual thing that once we wake up at a certain time e.g. 3a.m. we continually do so – it’s our bewitching hour! The trouble is that a lot of people get worked up about waking up and frustrated that they can’t go back to sleep. When I treat people for these issues I sort out why it started in the first place but then work on the habitual part of them. Part of this process is just a simple mind change about waking up at 3a.m. – it’s about waking up, seeing the time, smiling to themselves that this is just old programming and relishing the fact that they have maybe 4 more hours of sleep left. Feeling the warm comfortable cosy bed that they are wrapped up in and just enjoying the fact that they can be in that place and not have to do anything specific for a while. It’s a time for themselves.

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