Denise Evans, Clinical Counsellor

Self care begins with sleep

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When we are creating plans for self care, we often forget to include the amount of sleep we get every night. Other things are important, but an adequate amount of sleep is the most significant thing that we can do for ourselves. Without it, we fall apart.

In general adults need between 7 and 10 hours of sleep per night. Think of how much sleep you get when you are on holidays to figure out how much you need.   
Going without sleep has serious consequences. Our immune system function decreases which means we become ill more easily and often. Our judgment, our ability to think clearly, to pay attention, and to control our impulses all decrease. Our risky behaviour increases. Regardless of how seriously we are affected—and the more intense the sleep deprivation the more function decreases—we don’t realise our own deficits and think we are functioning normally.  Mind and body, sleep does “knit up the ravelled sleeve of care.”
So what to do if you are trying to sleep and are not able to? First allow yourself to relax about it. Tensely watching the clock roll over, punching the pillow and becoming anxious about how you will cope with the following day will not help you to sleep. If you know how to meditate, do so. Often people who stop trying to sleep and simply switch to a focused meditation will fall asleep anyway. It’s the reason why counting sheep works. If you still don’t sleep, meditation is more restful than fretting.
However, if sleeplessness is a long term problem, you may need to analyse your sleep hygiene and your diet to see how they might be contributing. People, particularly when tired, use caffeine to stay alert, which exacerbates the problem. The general recommendation for caffeine intake is about 300 mg/day, which is only 2 small cups of coffee and one cup of tea. Sometimes, managing caffeine is enough to solve the problem.
If it isn’t you may need to change your bedtime routine. People sometimes have difficulty falling asleep because they need to wind down and relax at the end of the day prior to crawling into bed. Also, if you have too many activities in your bedroom—your office, or exercise equipment or tv are all there—you may not be associating the bedroom with sleep. The general recommendation is that you use your bedroom only for sleep or sex and take all other activities out.
Make sure that your windows are covered so that your room is dark and quiet. It is also important that you have adequate ventilation. Establish a gentle bedroom routine: review your day and be mindful of what you are grateful for; or read quietly before turning out the lights. Both help in drifting off to sleep. Experiment until you find something that works for you.
With adequate sleep everything else in your life becomes possible. Sweet dreams.


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