Sleep - why it matters to women and how to improve it
I know I often complain about not getting enough sleep, and blame my kids and how they make me tired! But after a week of rubbish sleep I've been looking more into it. Without getting all sciency, various studies and literature show that decreased sleep quality, quantity and disrupted sleep is linked to chronic pain, weight gain, hormone driven cancers to name a few. I'm sure you'll agree that none of these are desirable side effects.
I read a fair bit about sleep when I was marathon training and the importance of sleep for the endurance athlete. But I feel a lot of us are like endurance athletes anyway - what with being a mum, looking after the kids AND doing everything else (bit like the post I shared in the Facebook group!). In short, studies show that sleep restriction impairs endurance performance, and sleep extension (more than 8 hours - dream on I hear you say (pun intended!)) for three nights led to better maintenance of endurance performance compared to normal or restricted sleep. So us mums need better sleep to be able to reduce health risk factors and to live our lives better and with more enjoyment and staying power!
So what things should we consider when trying to improve sleep quality and quantity (apart from putting our small kids for sale on ebay!):
Caffeine (coffee in particular) and I are very close friends. And I love love love my morning cup. I also use it for sports performance (but that's another topic altogether). Caffeine is also a great bowel stimulant to help keep you regular and a known improver of cognitive function. But I know I'm very sensitive to caffeine, too much can make me feel wired and jittery / irritable, so I've long had a 'cut off' and don't drink it after about 2pm. I've since read that sensitivity to caffeine can be increased in the afternoon / evening and cause blood sugar and cortisol levels to go a bit nuts. This definitely aligns with me. And in all honesty, in writing this blog post I realised I've let my caffeine deadline slip a bit the last few weeks so perhaps it is having an impact on my sleep. This coming week I'm going to try not having coffee after 12pm and see if this makes a difference. I like a good herbal tea, hot water and lemon and just plain hot water so it's not too tough!
Studies are endless on how this can improve sleep. And lots of my clients have said they've slept way better since starting a regular exercise programme. But yes, you don't want to be doing a high intensity routine at 11pm at night and then expect to fall straight to restful sleep. Before bed, we want to do some gentle stretching, or yoga or even just breathing and your pelvic floor exercises (see previous blog posts!). Core breathing is relaxing! Plus a warm shower /bath (note use of 'warm' and not 'hot') before bed can help reduce your core temperature to aid sleep. And if meditation is your thing, then before bed is a perfect time to do it!
Do try going to bed and getting up at the same time each day if you can. I know this isn't always possible - but it really does help the body to regulate. Generally we're pretty good at that in this household except those times when its a good idea to go out with your friends til 5am which brings me to my next point...
We all know it can make you feel sleepy, but after drinking a couple of glasses of wine you might find you often fall asleep but then wake up a few hours later, or just sleep on and off throughout the night. I know I sleep terribly after a night out in the pub.
For your evening meal, if sleep is proving a problem for you, check you are getting a good balance of healthy protein, fats and some complex carbs. The carbs help to keep blood sugar levels more stable as you sleep, as insulin spikes or drops can cause adrenaline rushes to wake you.
A cool, dark bedroom is the ideal. And apparently the addition of house plants can help improve air quality. Although I'm not sure Robin coming home to a room full of spider plants and aloe vera would go down well! But maybe I can sneak one in as an experiment without turning our bedroom in to a greenhouse! And we all know about phones, tvs, and kindle type reading devices and their dreaded 'blue light'. Try to avoid this for two hours before bed. This is a big problem area for me but one I know I need to tackle. I'm going to try really hard for no phone from 9pm. So not quite two hours for me but it's a start!!!
Struggle with thoughts and ideas and lists going round and round your head? This is something I've tried and has worked in the past. When I can't stop thinking about something at night, or I wake up in the middle of the night thinking about it, I've put a notebook by my bed and jotted down my thoughts. By writing it down, it's like saying to myself - "okay, stop thinking about this now, you can deal with it in the morning". Sometimes I'm annoyed about how much time I wasted being awake going over stuff or 'jobs to do' in my head and then wake up with zero energy or will to get on and do them. So I'm brining back my notebook!
Also a few drops of Lavender oil on your pillow can help. I've got a pot of this so I'm digging it out next week. Lavender is also known to help reduce anxiety.
I hope this helps if any of you are struggling with sleep at all at the moment. I doubt any of it is 'new' to you, but potentially a reminder to reinstate, revisit or try some of the points I've made above. Sleep well!