How to sleep well
Getting the right amount of good quality sleep is important for your good mental health. Optimum levels of sleep differ for everyone, but most people need around 6-8 hours of sleep each night. About 25% of this sleep time (in a young adult) is spent in stress relieving REM sleep, the other 75% is deep slow wave sleep, in which your body repairs itself and replenishes energy supplies. The levels of REM sleep that we need decrease throughout our lives, and babies have the most REM sleep. Too much dream sleep can leave you exhausted, drained and depressed, too little dream sleep keeps your stress levels high and, if continued, results in episodes of mania.
A typical nights sleep
You can gauge if you are getting too much or too little sleep by how you feel when you wake up. The familiar feeling of physical tiredness from being very busy or working hard is quite different to the mental exhaustion you feel when you wake after spending too much time in the REM state.
A useful fact to know about waking up is that a few minutes after we physically get out of bed and start moving around, a burst of cortisol (a stress hormone) is released in the brain. This release of cortisol happens to give you the effort to get some food to eat and thereby replenish glucose supplies. So if you’re lying in bed thinking you feel terrible and tired and need to sleep more, try getting up, walking around, making a cup of tea, having breakfast, popping to the shops to get the paper or something similar and then see if you feel you need more sleep.
- Use of the internet and computers have been shown to significantly alter levels and quality of REM in subsequent sleep, so switch off your computer a couple of hours before you go to bed.
- If you don’t sleep after 30 minutes of trying, get out of bed and do a very boring task that doesn’t reward or stimulate the brain (try filing, doing your accounts, ironing, dusting, reading a very dull book). This will ensure that you don’t condition yourself to lie awake in bed. Keep the lights dim while you do the task.
- Try herbal sleeping remedies like camomile and lavender.
- Anxiety about how much sleep you are getting can be counter-productive and keep you awake. Lower anxiety by learning to trust that your body and mind will sleep enough for your needs.
- Google “tips for better sleep” for many excellent websites on healthy sleep.
Alcohol, or the ‘nightcap’, is a false friend when it comes to sleep. It might seem like a good idea to drink alcohol to help you get to sleep but alcohol significantly disrupts the sequence, depth and duration of sleep states. Once the alcohol metabolises in your body, the imbalance is likely to wake you up. This is why, when you have drunk a lot of alcohol, you may find yourself waking up very early in the morning.