Sleep and Rest

Sleep and rest – some the best things you can do to maintain your physical and mental health.  Even better, they cost nothing, are safe for everyone and are drug free!

They are both vital, but they are not the same thing.

Without certain types of rest during the day we struggle to actually get to sleep at night, or we wake up with a racing mind during the night and struggle to get back to sleep.

We all know the effects of poor sleep – lack of energy, irritability, trouble concentrating and lack of motivation.  But the physical issues go much deeper, lack of sleep can compromise your immune system, a week of poor sleep can make your immune response to a flu vaccine drop by more than 50%.  Lack of sleep can affect certain hormones which contribute significantly to weight gain. A week of disrupted sleep can make you 40% less effective at absorbing glucose, a significant enough difference to classify you as being pre-diabetic.  Poor sleep is a key lifestyle factor in determining whether or not you develop Alzheimer’s disease.  In 2007, the World Health Organization classified night shift work as a potential carcinogen due to its disruption of the body’s circadian rhythm.

Getting a decent sleep is the most common thing that people come to see me about and the difference they make in their life when that starts to happen is amazing!

The key difference between rest and sleep is that during rest you are aware of what is around you, during sleep your brain becomes less aware and REM occurs.

REM is a magical part of your sleep cycle when you dream, it’s when memories are consolidated and moved from short term into long term memory.  Your brain is incredibly active at this stage, more active than if you were awake.  Your muscles become temporarily paralysed during REM (important so you don’t attempt to act out dreams!).  REM also helps ensure better mental concentration and mood regulation, both vital for quality of life and ability to work.  Alcohol seriously effects our ability to reach REM sleep. 

Our sleep cycle is very complex, with REM only taking up about 20% of our nights sleep (probably just as well considering how active our brain is!), other non REM parts of our sleep are also vital in so many ways.  Prof Matthew Walkers book ‘Why We Sleep’ is very informative, he uses a great analogy to explain the relationship between lack of sleep and Alzheimer’s – imagine our brain as a huge city, where the building shrink slightly in the night to allow the clean-up crews to come in and clean up all the rubbish and power wash everything away, one thing they are getting rid of is amyloid proteins.  If these activities aren’t happening at night this amyloid protein builds up, these deposits are the poisonous element associated with Alzheimer’s disease.

What about rest?  Rest can take many forms:

Physical rest – this can be passive like meditation or napping, or active like yoga.

Mental rest – taking short breaks from work or study at least every 2 hours have a significantly beneficial effect.

Sensory rest – switching off screens, TV’s, tablets.  Our senses are overwhelmed regularly from information, news, work, we need to switch off for a period every day to allow our senses to reset.

Creative rest – getting outside and enjoying nature, or take time to enjoy the arts or do something creative

Emotional rest – saying no occasionally, be less of a people pleaser and give yourself a break

Social rest – arguable we’ve all had a bit too much of that recently with lockdown!  Have you found it exhausting getting back into spending physical time with people, it can be draining.

In my clinic I summarise rest by referring to our 3 P’s – Positive Action, Positive Interaction and Positive Thought.

Most therapies or therapist will advise the same thing, we may call it something different, like mindfulness, learning breaking techniques – but we all mean rest. Rest from routine, rest of overstimulation, rest from demands.

If we get decent rest then we get descent sleep.  When that happens then almost anything is possible!!

I feel good rest and good sleep is my superpower!!

Why do I get so angry?

I often have clients who find themselves getting angry and frustrated at work, or find that they are calm at work but lose it at the slightest thing when they get home.

Reacting with anger is one of our brains responses to dealing with stress in our life. The other types of responses our brain can have is depressive or anxious behaviour.

Often people that exhibit depressive or anxious behaviour are met with concern and encouraged to find help. Anger is often viewed less favourably.

We will all probably have heard of the ‘fight/flight/freeze’ response, this is an automated response that occurs when we feel under threat. Anger is the manifestation of the ‘fight’ part of that response. We are all individuals, we all respond differently to a threat. The threat doesn’t have to be a physical threat, it can be an argument, guilt at making a mistake, feeling left out, or feeling overwhelmed – the part of our brain responsible for keeping us safe from threats can’t tell the difference between a physical threat and an emotional threat!

So when I have a client tell me they are easily annoyed, I treat them no differently than I would if they came with anxiety or depression. Their brain feels they are under threat, I can explain to them how that works and what they can do about it. We don’t need to explore why they are angry, instead we explore what their life would be like without anger, without anxiety. Have them paint an imaginary picture of how they would like their life to be, give their brain something to aim for. It’s much more effective to aim for a target then to simply put up a series of no entry signs!

Whats the difference between Stress and Anxiety

What’s the difference between Stress and Anxiety?
Stress is generally a temporary experience – a reaction to an event or a situation. What is stressful to one person is not necessarily stressful to another.

Anxiety is usually longer term, it can often be felt long after the stressful situation has ended, we are left fearful, nervous, worried. Although very often there is no single stressful situation that explains or initiates the feelings of anxiety. (This can make anxiety very hard to understand for people who have never experienced it)

Stress can often be dealt with in a practical manner by tackling the situation. Anxiety will often take therapy or medication.

Whilst neither Stress nor Anxiety are pleasant both CAN be overcome.

How does anxiety manifest itself?
Anxiety affects us all differently. The ‘classic’ systems are worrying about everything, seeing the negative in everything and panic attacks.  Other common symptoms are – anger, insomnia, excessive emotion, feeling out of control, lack of confidence, overeating, drinking too much, avoiding others, struggling with decision making.  There are lots of physical symptoms too and often any pre-existing physical complaint is felt more strongly when we are anxious.

What can we do to help ourselves?
Seek help, whether it be from a GP or a therapist, there is lots of different types of help out there when we need it.

Find a therapist you can relate to, find a therapy that makes sense to you.   We are all individuals, one fix doesn’t work for everyone.

Take exercise, even just going for a walk makes a difference – exercise is the world’s most underused antidepressant.


Tips for Good Nights Sleep

Sleep at regular times – keep regular sleeping hours, even at the weekend, this programmes the brain and internal body clock to get used to a set routine.  Adults need an average of 7.5 hrs sleep per night, you know what time you need to get up, so make sure you get to bed on time to fit in those 7.5 hrs.

Have a good bed time routine – relax and wind down before bed, a warm bath or shower will help your body reach a temperature ideal for rest.  Write a gratitude diary, encouraging the brain to think positively before sleep. Practice some relaxing yoga, or listen to relaxing music or read a book, listen to a hypnotherapy download – all things that relax the mind by distracting it.

Make your bedroom sleep friendly – your bedroom needs to be dark, quiet, tidy and kept cool. Have a comfortable bed helps. Ideally no electronics in the room, but if you can’t remove them then unplug them and cover them up.  Put your phone in another room so you are not tempted to look at if you wake up.

Avoid caffeine and nicotine – caffeine can take 8 hours to leave your system, so an afternoon coffee or cola can make it hard for you to fall asleep at night.  Nicotine is a stimulant, often causing smokers to sleep only very lightly.

Avoid alcoholic drinks – alcohol before bed robs you of the ability to reach REM sleep, and keeps you only in the light stages of sleep.  REM sleep is required for memory retention, processing emotions and plays a significant part in relieving anxiety.

Avoid large meals or drinks late at night – these can cause indigestion and/or cause you to get up to the use the bathroom often.

Take Exercise – make sure your body is physically tired (exercise has lots of benefits for your mental health as well as physical health)

Don’t take naps in the afternoon – naps can help make up for lost sleep, but later afternoon naps make it hard to sleep that night.

Don’t lie in bed – if you’re unable to sleep, get up and do something relaxing, don’t lie in bed and get anxious about not sleeping.

TV’s and tablets – avoid screen time 2 hours before bed.  The blue light in TV’s, computers, tablets delay the production of Melatonin (the sleep switch).

The single most effective way to improve your sleep is to reduce your stresswhen we are stressed and anxious our busy mind finds it hard to get to sleep, it can also wake us up in the middle of the night and keep us awake.  The most common symptom people mention to me when they first come to see me is poor sleep.  When they see me the following week they often comment that their sleep has improved already.