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Let's talk about Sleep

By Dr. Carol Rogan, PhD. Chartered Psychologist C.Psychol., Ps.S.I., CMIOSH

 

Lady Sleeping

Shakespeare referred to sleep as “the chief nourisher in life’s feast” in Macbeth. They were wise words and demonstrate that we’ve known about the benefits of sleep for centuries. With the advancement of EEG and brain scan technology such as MRI, scientists have discovered many fascinating aspects of sleep, including the many health benefits we get from sleep.

Benefits of Sleep

We now know that good quality sleep is essential for good physical and mental health, as well as a good quality of life (Chattu et al., 2018). Research has shown sleep’s many benefits (Walker, 2008), including:

  • Helps with learning & memory

  • Helps us process emotions and painful memories

  • Inspires creativity

  • Supports our immune system

  • Reforms the body’s metabolic state by fine-tuning the balance of insulin and circulating glucose

  • Regulates our appetite

  • Maintains a flourishing gut microbiome

  • Keeps a healthy reproductive system for men and women

  • Benefits cardiovascular health, lowering blood pressure and helping keep our hearts in good condition

  • Clears the brain of toxic proteins associated with Alzheimer’s Disease

How Much Sleep Do We Need?

So how much sleep do adults need for optimal health? According to sleep researchers, most adults should aim for at least seven hours of sleep each night (Watson et al., 2015; Walker 2018).

12 Tips for Healthy Sleep

The good news is we can take steps to improve the quantity and quality of our sleep. The following are tips from the National Institute of Health:

  1. Stick to a sleep schedule – go to bed and wake up at the same time each day.

  2. Exercise is great but not too late in the day. Avoid 2-3 hrs before bedtime.

  3. Avoid caffeine and nicotine close to bedtime. The effects of caffeine can take as long as 8 hours to wear off fully.

  4. Avoid alcoholic drinks before bed, particularly heavy use.

  5. Avoid large meals and beverages late at night. A light snack is ok, but a large meal can cause indigestion, which interferes with sleep. Drinking too many fluids at night can cause frequent awakenings to urinate.

  6. If possible, avoid medicines that delay or disrupt your sleep. If you have trouble sleeping, talk to your healthcare provider or pharmacist about the time medicines can be taken.

  7. Don’t take naps after 3pm

  8. Relax before bed – leave time for unwinding e.g. reading or listening to music

  9. Take a hot bath before bed – the drop in body temperature after a bath may help you feel sleepy, and the bath can help you relax and slow down so you’re more ready to sleep

  10. Keep your bedroom dark, cool and gadget-free. A comfortable mattress & pillow can help promote a good night’s sleep. Turn the clock’s face out of view so you’re not worrying about the time while trying to fall asleep.

  11. Aim to get outside in natural sunlight for at least 30 mins each day – daylight regulates sleep patterns.

  12. Don’t lie in bed awake. If you’re still awake after 20 mins, or if you’re starting to feel anxious or worried, get up and do something relaxing until you feel sleepy.

What About Shift and Night Workers?

When I’m working with client companies where staff are carrying out shift or night work, regular sleep patterns are interrupted which can lead to fatigue. Here are some tips around managing sleep patterns for those working shift or at night (Health & Safety Authority, 2012):

  • Try to develop a regular sleep pattern including at least 7-8 hours’ sleep in a 24 hour period

  • If you cannot sleep, make sure you are at least resting

  • Find out the best time for you to sleep and stick to this pattern. E.g. find out if you sleep better by going to bed soon after returning home from work or waiting up and going to sleep before the next shift

  • Have a short sleep before your first night shift

  • Have a short sleep after coming off night shifts and go to bed early that night

Creating the right environment will help you to sleep and rest. Daytime cues make it more difficult to sleep and therefore should be minimised.

  • Use your bedroom for sleep and not as an entertainment room (e.g. no television)

  • Avoid falling asleep in the living room

  • Choose a quiet room as your bedroom, where there is least disturbance from outside and internal noise and sounds

  • Blackout the bedroom as much as possible to keep out daylight, this will help you sleep and encourage melatonin production. Consider using heavy curtains or blinds, which can help in blacking out the room

  • Put your mobile on silent and landline ringing volume on low

  • Ask your family to keep the noise levels down from voice, radio, television and not to disturb you

  • If necessary, let your neighbours know your schedule and request them to avoid use of noisy machines such as grass mowers and power tools when you should be sleeping. If they have a dog that barks a lot, ask them to bring it inside if possible

  • Use ear plugs and eye masks if necessary

As we know, fatigue increases the risk of having a car accident. If you’re driving to and from work, consider these measures to reduce this risk:

  • Get a lift, or use public transport if possible

  • Drive carefully and do not speed

  • Do not drive if over-tired

  • Stop for a quick rest if you feel sleepy while driving

What Do I Do If I’m Struggling with My Sleep?

You should discuss sleep issues with your GP or Occupational Health Dept (if available in your organisation). They will be able to advise on the best course of action for you, looking at your circumstances. One of the treatments for insomnia is known as CBT-I (Cognitive Behavioural Therapy for Insomnia) and this is considered a good first line of treatment for insomnia.

You can also contact your workplace Employee Assistance Programme (EAP), if there is one available, to discuss sleep issues and any associated stress. EAP programmes provide a free, fully confidential service and are generally available to staff by phone or online, on a 24/7 basis.

You could consider setting a sleep goal on the MyLife app. This is a health & wellbeing app from Irish Life, available to download for free from the app store. See Health & Wellbeing App – MyLife App by Irish Life for more details.

Further information on managing sleep issues is available through the following websites:

Staff Wellbeing Programme

If you’re interested in booking one of our masterclasses or training programmes on sleep or shiftwork, get in touch with us at wellness@irishlife.ie and we’d be delighted to discuss available options.

References
Chattu, V.K, Manzar, M.D., Kumary, S., Burman, D., Spence, D.W & Pandi-Perumal, S.R. (2019). The Global Problem of Insufficient Sleep and Its Serious Public Health Implications. Healthcare, 7, 1. doi: www.10.3390/healthcare7010001
Guidance for Employers and Employees on Night and Shift Work (2012). Health & Safety Authority.
Walker, M. (2018). Why We Sleep – The New Science of Sleep and Dreams. UK: Penguin Books.
Watson, N. F., Badr, M. S., Belenky, G., Bliwise, D. L., Buxton, O. M., Buysse, D., et al., (2015). Recommended amount of sleep for a healthy adult: A joint consensus statement of the American Academy of Sleep Medicine and Sleep Research Society. Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine, 11(6), 591–592. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/25979105/
 

 

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