With Dr Sven Hansen
Sleep, along with exercise, relaxation and nutrition, is a foundation of good health, resilience and personal success. Whilst the most natural practice, a third of people have chronic sleep problems and two thirds have difficulties securing the benefits of a good night’s sleep. The consequences are fatigue, irritability, loss of concentration, reduced immunity, poor memory, reduced social skills, and increased risk of chronic disease. In our experience, sleep is a non-negotiable requirement of resilience.
Sleep is wired into our biology through the CIRCADIAN rhythm. It keeps us warm, active and alert through the day and allows us to cool, become quiet and sleep at night. The cycle is just over 24 hours long so needs to be reset each morning. This happens naturally with light – particularly the blue light before dawn. The trap with our busy sleep-deprived lives is to sleep in on the weekend. This causes the cycle to “drift” forwards causing a disruptive “reset” (jetlag) on Monday morning.
Owls tend to have a longer rhythm that keeps them awake at night and sleeping longer into the morning. The lark prefers to go to bed and wake early. These tendencies are built into our genes. It is important to respect our unique make-up.
We also have an ULTRADIAN rhythm of about 90 minutes. When up we are more alert and when down inclined to fade a little. The ultradian helps us to fall asleep and wake up. It also defines the deep and dreaming sleep cycles. Deep sleep occupies the first part of the night and dreaming sleep the second.
While we can tolerate and recover from short periods of sleep deprivation, long term deprivation is very serious and will impact on every area of your life. Our daytime effectiveness depends on regular, disciplined and structured sleep.
Most of us need between 6 and 8 hours of sleep per night. Too much sleep is associated with increased health risk as well. Quality of sleep is as important as quantity. Hypervigilance (anxiety) can cause poor quality and disrupted sleep. Many sleep problems can be corrected by simple lifestyle alignment:
- Establish a regular daily wake up time and live to it!
- Get out into the blue light of dawn if possible
- Exercise in the mornings and see if strength training makes a difference
- Avoid heavy meals (protein, fat) at night and eat early where you can
- Powernap for 10 minutes after lunch
- Develop a cool, relaxed and quiet hour or two before bed
- Remove all gadgets from the bedroom (TV, cellphone, laptops)
- Seek your circadian rhythm (larks to bed by 10.30 and owls by 11.30)
- Relax body, breathe slowly, appreciate your day and quiet the mind
- Do not use lights at night, keep room cool, dark and quiet
Please be sensible. Serious sleep disruption may have serious conseqences or very real medical causes. If simple lifestyle practices are not helping it is important to see your health provider.
For more information:
The Resilience Institute: www.resiliencei.com
The Sleep Well Clinic: www.sleepwellclinic.co.nz
(Broadcast 10 July 2012)