The number 1 wellbeing practice you need to thrive (with the research to back it up).
Creating and maintaining optimal wellbeing is a goal for the vast majority of women in this community. It’s also one of the things we struggle with the most, which isn’t surprising when you consider all of the different priorities we’re trying to balance at any given time. Not only that, but when it comes to wellbeing, there’s a lot of conflicting information out there which can make it difficult to know where to start and who to trust. So let’s get back to basics and start with something that we absolutely know from the research is essential to your wellbeing and your ability to thrive.
GETTING ADEQUATE SLEEP.
Let’s be honest: when you’re busy and time poor, sleep can be the first thing you negotiate on, thinking that you can get by just as well on 5 hours of sleep as the recommended 8 hours. But the impact of this could be creating more issues than you are aware of, with flow on effects into every area of your life.
It may seem like sleep is the time when the body is inactive and not much is happening, when nothing could be further from the truth. Sleep is actually a very active, complex process when the body undertakes a number of essential activities. Not only is it a chance for our cells to repair, our energy to be restored, our immune system to be strengthened and essential proteins and hormones to be distributed to the body, sleep is primarily for our brain, allowing it to recover and regenerate. During our sleep the brain can process information, consolidate memory and enable us to learn and function effectively during the day. Sleep affects our ability to use language, remain focused, understand what we’re reading and summarise what we’re hearing. It also allows us to have new insights and creative ideas.
Simply put, when you don't get enough sleep, it damages your health, your mood, your cognitive brain capacity and your productivity. Charles Ziesler, Harvard sleep expert, says that
"a person who is sleep deprived has no idea how functionally impaired he or she truly is. Most of us have forgotten what it really feels like to be awake."
We’ve also forgotten what it’s like to feel fully rested. Often, we think that it doesn’t really matter if we don’t get our seven to nine hours a night. But the impact of losing sleep is profound. Scientists have discovered that the impact of sleep loss on our brain and behaviour is significant. Losing just 90 minutes of sleep reduces our daytime alertness by one third. If we lose up to four hours of sleep, that can produce as much impairment as going to work having just drunk a six pack of beer.
If you struggle to get the sleep you need, here are 5 tested strategies to try:
1. KEEP A SCHEDULE AND A JOURNAL
Our bodies like rhythm and routine. Maintaining consistent times of waking up and going to bed every day brings your circadian cycles into rhythm and helps you both fall asleep and wake up feeling rested. And we know that the hours before midnight are the most effective sleep wise, so try being in bed for sleep around 10 or 10:30pm, and waking at 6 or 6:30am. Keep track of how you go, what is working in terms of rituals, how you feel on waking, and any thoughts that may have kept you awake during the night. By starting to track your patterns you can amplify what works and develop counter strategies for what doesn’t.
2. CREATE A BEDTIME RITUAL
One of the greatest tools to changing sleep patterns is to create a bedtime ritual. Many people work right up until bedtime, switch off the laptop and then expect to be able to go straight to sleep. For the vast majority of people, even if you can fall asleep, the quality of your sleep is going to be reduced. Setting up the right environment for sleep is critical. Work out what will really slow you down and ease yourself into a restful zone with a cup of herbal tea, some calming music, meditation, restorative yoga or stretching, or some light reading.
3. WORK OUT YOUR STRESSORS
We know that two of the main inhibitors to restful sleep are busy schedules and long work hours. For many of us, with working from home becoming the new normal, the blurring of boundaries and extension of the working day into the night only inflates the issue. Working out how to de-stress and switch off is critical. A practical tool to help stave off the 2am rumination cycles is to write down your to-do list at the end of your work day and get all of the content and to-do’s that are going to rattle around in your subconscious mind onto paper. This has been proven to significantly help with getting to sleep, and also aid staying asleep.
4. DON’T PANIC IF YOU WAKE UP
Don’t panic if you wake up. This is one of the most common issues we hear from women. But you can relax a little. Research shows that it is perfectly natural to wake up during the night as we shift from one sleep cycle to another. Try and settle yourself and go back to sleep, rather than stressing about how little sleep you are getting. Lie in your bed and meditate or listen to a guided visualisation. Or have pleasant thoughts about your next holiday or massage you have planned for the weekend. Whatever you do, don’t log back, scroll social media on or reengage your brain in any way.
5. TURN OFF YOUR DEVICES
Finally, turn off your devices, which have a blue light which can impact the natural flow of the sleep hormone melatonin. Ideally turning off your devices anywhere from thirty minutes to two hours before you want to go to sleep is going to help with falling asleep and the quality of your sleep.
Remember that sleep needs and abilities change over time. Try these strategies, see what works, and then readjust as you need to. If you are still struggling with lack of sleep or it turns into insomnia, then consider seeing someone about it like a cognitive behavioural therapist to look at underlying behavioural patterns. Don’t be afraid to ask for help.
And of course, a little love note here for any parents of young children. If this is where you’re at and you’re taking care of a little one, then getting enough sleep will probably feel like a pipe dream to you. My thoughts are with you because it really is such a difficult time when you constantly feel exhausted and sleep deprived. Please be gentle and kind to yourself and do what’s possible to get whatever pockets of sleep you can get, whenever you can get them.
If you’re interested in more tools and strategies to help you create optimal wellbeing, we go through the latest science and what truly works in Module 6 of the Women Rising program - Intentional Wellbeing.