Resting Well, by Vanessa King

Annamarie Dillon | November 24, 2015

It gives us great pleasure to share the eighth blog post in the series for rare disease caregivers entitled, "Building Resilience" by Vanessa King.

Sleep matters. Scientists suggest that we should sleep for at least one hour for every two that we are awake. That adds up to 8 hours a day.

Yet we live in a society where most of us are chronically sleep deprived – we lead busy lives at home and at work, are constantly connected to our phone, laptops or TVs. If we are carers, we may have even greater challenges.

Take sleeping seriously
People who sleep sufficiently are generally happier, healthier and have better cognitive functioning than those who get too little. So what can we do to sleep longer and better? The first thing is to take sleep seriously – it really does make a difference to how we feel and function and our longer-term psychological and physical health. We’ll look at some tips to help you get to sleep and sleep well for longer.

Sleep experts recommend trying our best to have a regular time for going to bed and waking up. As carers, this isn’t always easy to do as we often have to get up to attend to our loved ones during the night. However, there are no rules saying that we need to sleep for our 7 or 8 hours straight through. In fact our ancestors often slept for 4 or so hours (from say 8:00 pm to midnight) then got up for a few hours spending that time in thoughtful reflection or connecting with others, then going back to bed for a “second sleep” in the early hours. . So if you do have to get up in the night, can you arrange to have a nap during the day?

Tips on sleeping well
• Lower the lights – we are biologically programmed to respond to the natural cycle of daylight and darkness. The pineal gland behind our eyes responds to the level of light by switching on or off our production of melatonin, which governs our sleep. We now spend a lot of our time in artificial light, which confuses our natural system so a simple act of dimming our overhead lights in our sitting room and bedroom a couple of hours before going to bed will help.

• Tame technology – as tempting as it is to be glued to our screens late into the night, it is a huge disrupter of sleep. Yes it may help us relax and switch off, but as far as sleep goes it switches us on. Our TVs, phones and computers all emit a blue light of specific wavelengths that really mess with our production of melatonin and hence our sleep. So turn off your screens 1.5 to 2 hours before you go to bed. Or if you really must use the time before bed to catch up on emails etc., investigate apps or software that change the quality of light from your device or invest in a pair of amber lensed glasses – they may not look great, but you’ll look and feel better the next morning!

• Limit late-night liquids – a full bladder is a common cause of restlessness or waking up in the night. So make sure you drink plenty of water and other fluids during the day and stop at least 1.5 hours before you go to bed. (Alcohol included – we may feel it helps us get to sleep, but it disrupts our naturally patterns causing us to wake in the early hours).

• Neutralise noise – often we feel that we should eliminate all noise from our bedrooms. However, centuries ago, noise was a key factor that helped people sleep! But it’s the type of noise that matters.
If you can hear noise from outside that bothers you then spending a few pounds, euros or dollars on some foam earplugs could really help (and are very good if you are travelling).

In contrast, gentle sounds that signal comfort and safety can actually help us sleep better than no noise at all. For example, the sound of a pet sleeping, the radio tuned to a talk show at low volume, a recording of gentle waves or the gentle whirr of a fan all can work. So this might be worth a try.

• Switch off your thoughts – sometimes what stops us going to sleep is our minds. They just won’t stop whirring, perhaps stuck on a problem you have to deal with, overly full to do lists or worrying. If this is the case for you there are some simple tricks you can try – have a look at the attached guide for some suggestions and find the one that works best for you.

If you give these tips a try and you still have problems, do make time to speak to your doctor. Your sleep is too important not to!

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