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!!