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Stress Part 3: Optimise Your Sleep. Your Step by Step Guide to Better Managing Stress

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Following on from the previous two emails (Part 1: Your Stress Guide, Part 2: Exercise & Diabetes), you now are able to assess your level of stress at present (and recognise that this level will change with time and circumstance) plus you better understand the way your body responds to stress. How chemicals are released in response to perceived stress and then the effects these chemicals will have on your body. We also looked at the positive benefit that exercise has on one chronic health condition, that being diabetes, but is has similar positive benefits on other chronic conditions like osteoporosis and heart health. Sleepless lady

Now we are looking at the effect poor sleep has on our health and what you can do to improve this situation. Remember, sleep (of which we spend 1/3 of our lives) is critical for recovery - both physical and mental. We process our experiences, organize our thoughts, problem solve and test out theories all while asleep. When we are in the rapid eye movement (REM) sleep cycle, we are actually physical paralyzed (apart from eyes and diaphragm), so we don’t hurt ourselves (or partner) while testing out our newly acquired super powers! I think all would agree that a poor night's sleep, results in a less than ideal sport or work performance the next day. I seemed to handle late nights when studying, but clearly, remember how wasted I felt getting up a few times in one night when the children were young.

Ongoing poor sleep (insomnia) apart from influencing mood, performance and attention levels, can also have serious long-term health consequences - heart attack, stroke, depression, reduced immune system effectiveness, weight gain and poorer memory.

So what is a good nights sleep? Well, it varies from person to person and also changes with age and circumstance. Basically, children to late teens need around 10 -11 hours per night. Lack of sleep hours plus hormones can make teenage years pretty interesting. Adults need between 7-9 hours (pregnant mums and extra hour) and older adults somewhat less.

Now quantity is part of the picture, but you also need to take quality into perspective. Do you got to sleep within 30 minutes of hitting the pillow, and if you wake, do you go back to sleep in a similar time frame. If no, then you probably have a sleep efficiency problem. At Esperance Physiotherapy we use a validated questionnaire to assess whether you are a ‘good’ sleeper or a ‘poor’ sleeper. This tool helps us to evaluate what aspects of your sleep need to be examined and improved.

One of the biggest areas that you can self-regulate, is your sleep hygiene; the habits and the environment in which you sleep. The best way to understand this is to look at sleep in a historical context. Before the advent of electricity, our day and night habits were regulated by sunlight. As the end of the day draws near, darkness falls, and the ambient temperature drops. The darkness stimulates melatonin production, which decreases our arousal level (we may have huddled around a fire, but the yellow light doesn’t stimulate our brain), and the cooling temperature encourages us to seek shelter. Usually, come the end of the day we were physically tired, and this combination of fatigue, dark & cool, enabled up to slip off into deep, sound sleep.Light source

Contrast that with today’s common situation of

  • An overall reduced physical activity levels
  • High daily mental input and stress
  • Plus evenings that are white light (computers, TV, smartphones) dominant and highly stimulating (games, movies, anticipating a Facebook reply).

Most brains just can’t switch off, destress and become a melatonin mush in 30 minutes of switching off the bedroom light (plus TV, smartphone .....). Likewise, if your body is warm, and the environment is warm, your body is not receiving the correct messages indicating it is time to sleep.

What to do? I think like with any chronic condition (that is what insomnia is), there are many factors causing the outcome. It makes sense to then look at the broader picture before getting too specific.

Consider the following factors if you are struggling to achieve a good nights sleep. Remember to make a change, you gotta make a change.

  1. Enjoy an hour of moderate to high-level intensity exercise per day = physical fatigue + mental download. Build up to this over a period of time and seek guidance if you are new to intensity exercise. We see lots of ‘keenies’ that embark on this trip to discover the land of overuse injuries.
  2. Don’t have stimulants, alcohol or large meals 4-6 hours before going to bed. Consider trialing some forms of relaxation like appropriate music, breathing exercises or light exercise (walking, yoga or stretching).
  3. Reduce light intensity 1-2 hours before your sleep time. If you work shift work and finish during the day, wear very dark glasses on the drive home. Have absolute black out in your bedroom on all windows (black plastic and duck tape work a treat).
  4. Turn your bedroom into a personal sanctuary. Remove all communication and entertainment equipment. Cover over any 'standby lights'. Keep the room cool (16-18 degrees is ideal) and measure with a thermometer so you know what is your room temperature. If you are partner sleeping, and one sleeps ‘hotter’ than the other, don’t sleep under the same duvet. Have separate ones that are individually suited. Invite the partner in for marshmallows and romance, rather than sweat it out every night.
  5. Your sleep system (base, mattress & pillow) is important, but there are so many variables. Generally speaking, aim for a box spring mattress, with just enough topping to support the heaviest sleeper. Too much topping and mattress will be too soft and therefore unsupported. A medium firm is about right for most average person’s weight (60 - 90kg). If one partner is significantly lighter (and the mattress feels too firm) purchase a sheep or synthetic topping for that ½ of the bed only. Work out what textures of bed linen you sleep best in. High-quality cotton is a good starting place. Stick with quality pillows and avoid feathers (research shows this to be a common factor in those waking with neck and shoulder pain).
  6. Ideally, keep the kids out, definitely the pets. The number of people I have observed during Video Sleep Assessments, spending a large chunk of the night rubbing/scratching their face, shoulders, head ... you name it all night long and have a cat or dog on the end or middle of their bed doing the same thing. Who is giving whom the itches? One person said ‘had a restless night, one of the kids keep coming in and rubbing my face’. Nope. No kids came in during the video, just the dog and it was licking your face, not rubbing it!

Do you feel you need some help? Doug ‘sleep coach’ Cary has for the past 6 years been moving through his Masters at Curtin University examining sleep posture and pain and is now into completing his Ph.D., further looking into this fascinating and vital area of health. He designed a world’s first method for assessing sleep posture in the home environment and has been coaching people on how to improve their lives, through better sleep hygiene.

Ready to improve your sleep quality and quantity?

Option 1. Ring and book your 40-minute Personalized Sleep Assessment with Doug to find out what you need to change to achieve your optimal sleep experience.

Option 2.With a wide ranage of pillows in house, we can conduct a personalised 'pillow fit' and recommend and size a pillow, which you can then test in the clinic.

Option 3. If you are between 18 - 45 and wake with neck or back pain, 4 or more times per month, which then gets better in the first hour of moving around, you may be eligible for a free Video Sleep Assessment (valued at $250) by participating in research conducted in association with Curtin University. Ring 90715055 and leave your details.