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to sleep, perchance to dream

Sleep better and longer

30th May 2014, by Wolfgang Mittelmaier

There is a lot of research that maintains that longer and better sleep will not only make you live longer but also perform better mentally and physically throughout the day.

photo of sleeping lion

About two years ago, I started struggling with sleep issues to a degree that I had never experienced before, so I ended up doing a lot of reading and talking to friends and colleagues about it. One of the best and most concise texts I have come across is “Five things that stop a good night’s sleep” on the BBC website.

The following tips may help you get better and longer sleep, but if you have significant problems with sleep, I would very much encourage you to see your GP as there can be a myriad reasons for sleep problems and you will want to investigate them as soon as possible.

What is good sleep?

Good sleep quality is not just about the right duration, it is also about the right kind of sleep. A sleep that leaves you refreshed and ready to tackle the challenges of the day consists of about six phases of REM sleep.

The natural body clock

Our body is built to do different things at different times of day and night. It generally follows a circadian rhythm, similar to plants and animals. Its internal “clock” uses the colour of the light that surrounds us as an indicator that it is on track.

The wrong kind of light

Morning and evening light is much warmer than daylight and the night used to be much darker. It is only very recently in human history that this has changed considerably.

Modern life creates a lot of disorientation for our internal clock by exposing us to a light that often is of the cold, slightly blue daylight variety. Daylight can be found in places where you would not expect it:

  • your computer
  • your iPad or Android tablet
  • your smartphone
  • your TV
  • halogen lighting in your house (even though you can get warm halogen lights or even lights with adjustable colour temperature)
  • other lighting in the house (again, you could go for warmer alternatives, even with the new energy saving lights)
SAD and SAD lights

On the other end of the scale, and not directly connected to the problem of sleep is Seasonal Affective Disorder, which comes from a lack of exposure to daylight. It usually is a problem that is acute during shorter daylight periods, and by far not everybody is susceptible to it.

However, if you suffer from it, it will affect your mood and consequently increase your overall stress levels, which in turn will affect your sleep quality. SAD lights have come down in price considerably in the last few years (look at a cheap one here or a higher priced one here), but again, consult your GP if you think you are suffering from it – it is easy to misinterpret symptoms of any kind just because they ring true when described for a particular condition...

Mood

Watching or reading a thriller, going on Facebook or playing a computer game may all look like a good distraction after a hard day at work.

Try to follow it up with comedy or listening to calm music with closed eyes, or something else that is calming and pleasant to you, as you need to slow down brain activity to invite sleep and perchance to dream…

Noise

This is one of the most obvious enemies to a good night’s sleep. An easy improvement might be the use of earplugs, and while I currently use them regularly, I am not sure I would recommend it. Not only do they interfere with the natural cleaning process of the inner ear, but a client of mine ended up at A&E twice because they had moved into her ear. As I say, I do use them, but be aware of the downsides.

Buy earplugs online, you will get 50 of them for less than £10, a fraction of the price you would pay at your high street chemist.