Life Health & Wellbeing

Sunday 22 September 2019

Why sleep matters

Stock image
Stock image

As adults, writes, Dr Harry Barry, we need eight hours of sleep. During this time, we experience sequential 90-minute cycles of non-rapid eye movement (NREM) or deep sleep and rapid eye movement (REM) or dream sleep. The first four hours of night are mainly NREM and the second four REM.

During NREM sleep, we consolidate memories of the day while our whole stress system relaxes, allowing the brain and body the opportunity to recover and repair. If we're not getting enough sleep, both the mind and body become hyped up, increasing dramatically the risks of blood pressure, heart attacks and strokes. We also experience a reduction in our NK (natural killer) immune cells which punch holes in potential cancer cells, so the risk of cancer increases. Finally, we become cognitively impaired. During REM sleep, we strengthen memories of the day and decouple our emotions from them. If we're not getting sufficient sleep, we become emotionally labile with higher risks of depression, anxiety impulsivity and self-harm. Toxic stress leading to and combining with lack of sleep is therefore a dangerous cocktail.

If you're struggling to achieve eight hours of sleep, go to bed at a consistent hour, preferably well before midnight. Avoid stimulants like coffee for at least 12 hours before sleep and steer clear of alcohol or sleeping tablets as they can interfere with sleep quality. Try to sleep in a well-aerated room with blackout blinds. Then calm your mind with Dr Nerina Ramlakhan's tips.

Fix your sleep 

Dr Nerina Ramlakhan

1. Write a list of what you need to do the next day. Get it all out of your head and onto paper, even if it seems trivial. Even small problems can seem bigger in the early sleepless hours.

2. Withdraw from technology 45 minutes before you get into bed and leave technology out of your bedroom (yes, use an old fashioned clock/alarm). If you wake during the night, don't look at the time and definitely avoid looking at your phone.

3. Write a gratitude journal before you switch your bedside light off. Think of all the small things that have happened in your day for which you are grateful, even if - especially if - you've had a bad day. Look hard and you'll find a few that you hadn't even thought of. Drift off to sleep thinking of them and with the words 'thank you' resounding in your mind.

Dr Nerina Ramlakhan is author of 'Fast Asleep, Wide Awake' (Harper Collins, 2016)

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