The bad news first: Most people are sleeping less than they should. One in three of us don’t get enough rest. Chronic stress and a more sedentary lifestyles are two reasons for that.
If you don’t get enough sleep, the negative effects on your health can be profound. Once you reach your 50s, if you’re sleeping less than the recommended seven hours a night, your risk of developing dementia jumps by 30 per cent. Inadequate sleep also increases the risks of heart attack, stroke, hypertension, obesity, diabetes and other health issues.
The good news. On the flip side, a restorative sleep is good medicine, a natural elixir that far exceeds the benefits of any pill. And getting enough keeps you mentally sharp during the day, better able to deal with life’s stresses and conflicts.
We spoke to the experts to reveal how to fix your sleep schedule, starting tonight.
Worries about work, health and finances, as well as stressful life events, such as job loss, divorce, major illness or the death of a loved one, are all common causes of insomnia.. This happens because, even if your body is ready for rest, stress causes your brain to go on high alert. That, in turn, triggers the release of hormones like adrenaline and cortisol and increases your blood pressure and heart rate.
“It doesn’t matter how tired you are,” says Dr Ram Randhawa of Leon Judah Blackmore Centre for Sleep Disorders. “If you are in a room with a tiger, you won’t fall asleep.”
Thankfully, the physiology of how stress disrupts sleep points to effective, non-pharmaceutical antidotes. For one, you can try writing down a list of pressing problems and worries before going to bed. Give yourself time to reflect, process and work out next steps or solutions. Then let those worries go so you don’t ruminate into the night.
Once you’ve thought things through, to bring down your blood pressure and heart rate, neurologist Dr Andrew Lim, recommends trying a variety of relaxation techniques and rituals. Meditation, yoga, abdominal breathing, soft music or taking a hot bath can all help calm your nervous system and switch off the body’s ‘fight or flight’ response.
If those strategies aren’t working, cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) can help with insomnia caused by stress. For this treatment, a therapist will help you recognise negative thoughts, feelings and behaviours that are contributing to insomnia, and, in six to eight sessions, you’ll learn to reframe them in a way that is conducive to sleep.
Lastly, try not to add to your stress by worrying about a lack of sleep. “Paradoxically, sleep isn’t something you can achieve with effort. The harder you try to sleep, the more elusive it becomes,” says Randhawa. “The best advice is to improve your stress management and let your sleep improve naturally.”