Aug 10th, 2019
Hey everyone, this week is ‘Sleep Awareness Week’ so I wanted to direct our stress conversation there to give us a head start on reducing our stress.
Sleep deprivation is one of the major contributors to stress in our constantly connected world.
A recent report here in Australia found that sleep deprivation is highly prevalent with an estimated 39.8% of Australian adults experiencing some form of inadequate sleep.
That’s 4 out of every 10 Australian adults.
It also revealed that sleep deprivation was linked to over 3,000 deaths in 2016-17, with just under 400 of those occurring because a person had fallen asleep at the wheel of a vehicle or from an industrial accident due to lack of sleep. The remaining deaths are heart disease and diabetes deaths linked to sleep disorders.
I have clients all the time telling me that they are “surviving” on 4 to 5 hours of sleep every night and I always tell them the same thing: “You are not surviving, you are actually shortening your life”.
Sleep affects every single cell in every organ of the body and it is time for all of us to take a serious look at our sleep.
Going back to the time of my burnout, I was sleeping an average of 2 to 3 hours a night. Ironically, my anxiety around my health after the melanoma treatment, was keeping me awake at all hours of the night.
“Were our finances where I needed them to be if I was to die and leave the responsibility to my family?” “Did I have enough life insurance and even if I didn’t, would I be able to get any now the ‘C’ word was stamped on my health records?”
I needed to get better if I was to turn things around but my sleep, or lack of it, was totally counterintuitive to that.
I would wake up every day feeling exhausted, my brain was foggy, and my tolerance level was almost non-existent. I thought many times about just giving up and then finally one day I struck up the courage to get some help.
Today I want to share a little of what I learned through that time and how I was able to turn things around. I really hope it helps you too.
If I were to summarise this into 3 areas it would be ROUTINE, RHYTHM and RELAXATION.
Let’s start with ROUTINE.
People are creatures of habit and, good and bad, habits are formed by getting into a routine and sticking to it.
My health coach introduced me to the life-changing concept of ‘Sleep Hygiene’. Now, if you had asked me what that was before she told me, I would have thought it was about going to bed in clean sheets after having a shower. There was so much more to it than that. Practicing consistent sleep hygiene non-negotiables will reduce your stress.
My daily routine really affected the amount and quality of sleep I was having each night so it had to change.
It included things like when I got up and when I went to bed, when and what I ate and drank, how much exercise I had and when I had it, staying off screens and having my room totally dark and at the right temperature. The list went on and on. Just google: ’Sleep Hygiene’ and you will find many resources to help you to change your routine which in turn will improve your sleep and your stress.
Just like dancing, sleep is more effective when you have the right rhythm.
If you’ve ever noticed that you tend to feel energised and drowsy around the same times every day, you have your circadian rhythm to thank. Our ‘Circadian’ rhythm is a natural, internal process controlled by our brain that regulates our sleep-wake cycle and repeats roughly every 24 hours.
For most adults, the biggest dip in energy happens in the middle of the night somewhere between 2 and 4 am, when they're usually fast asleep and just after lunchtime around 1 to 3pm, when they tend to crave a post-lunch nap. It’s when you’re sleep-deprived that you’ll notice bigger swings of sleepiness and alertness.
Even though your brain controls your circadian rhythm, outside factors like lightness and darkness can also impact it. When it’s dark at night, your eyes send a signal to the brain that it’s time to feel tired. Your brain, in turn, sends a signal to your body to release melatonin, which makes your body tired. That’s why your circadian rhythm tends to coincide with the cycle of day time and night time.
Your circadian rhythm works best when you have regular sleep habits, like going to bed at night and waking up in the morning around the same times of the day - everyday, even on weekends.
When things get in the way, like jet lag, daylight savings time, or staying up to watch a sporting event on TV that keeps you up until the early hours of the morning, you can disrupt that circadian rhythm, which makes you feel out of sorts and can make it harder to pay attention.
The first step to every healthy sleep and stress regime is learning to relax the mind and body.
For many years I struggled to ‘relax’. My mind was always active, thinking about what I had or hadn’t got done or what I needed to do tomorrow, who was judging me and how was I failing. Did I deserve to take time off and relax?
The negative self-talk that haunts us from time to time, and in my case, sent me on a direct path to The Performance Trap.
Learning to relax took a change of my thinking and my beliefs, as well as my behaviour.
Being present in the moment through practicing meditation and mindfulness was a huge help for me.
Making space in my daily routine for self-care was critical in my recovery and now scheduled in as a non-negotiable priority.
Letting things go quickly, forgiving myself and others, and moving forward.
Staying in touch with my spiritual side through grace and gratitude. Practicing yoga.
These are just a few things that I slowly added into my daily routine that not only help me sleep a solid 7 to 8 hours every night these days, they help me reduce and manage my stress.
So, where are you with your sleep awareness? Is it where it needs to be or are you still justifying your unhealthy habits through your own understanding and logic? I know, I was there too, but it’s all lies and it has to change. It’s all a matter of ROUTINE, RHTHYM and RELAXATION.
Hopefully this has given you some food for thought and even though our calendar sets aside 1 week a year for sleep awareness, this must be something we celebrate every week if we want to live a long and healthy life with less stress.
See you next week as we continue the conversation around all things Stress.