Many people struggle with enjoying good quality sleep at some point in their lives: so if this is affecting you at the moment there is no need for undue alarm. However, the long-term consequences of poor quality sleep (sleep deprivation) can include:
- depression and anxiety
- weight gain
- heart disease
- decreased sex drive and fertility
- weakened immune system (which can trigger other illness)
Short-term effects tend to be more associated with poor energy levels, mood swings, difficulties with concentration and work performance. All of these can, of course, create the impression you are experiencing more stress than normal. This can trigger a downward spiral as you turn to comfort foods, alcohol, caffeine etc. as short-term stimulants that tend to exacerbate the very thing you are trying to avoid.
Poor sleep patterns may include struggling to get off to sleep, waking through the night (a general restlessness), waking and not being able to get back to sleep and waking an hour or so before your normal waking time. It is worth keeping a diary of your sleep pattern to discuss with your GP if this is becoming an issue for you. There may be some easy reasons to identify. Stimulants (coffee, tea, energy drinks, chocolate, more than one/two units of alcohol and junk food in the evening) may create difficulties in getting off to sleep and/or cause you to awaken shortly after you have gone to sleep. They may also cause you to have restless sleep meaning, although you are not awake, you are not enjoying deep restful sleep.
Women tend to have more sleep problems than men and this may, in part, be due to hormonal influences and/or worrying about family/children. Obviously, this is a generalisation so, again, it is important to note your sleep patterns to be able to discuss them specifically with your GP or health professional.
Stress will wake you in the night and may prevent you getting back off to sleep again. Before turning to medication why not try, meditation, mindfulness and other relaxation techniques. Practising these at regular times in your day will help create a more relaxed and less stressed 'you' when night comes. Your brain will process less anxiety and negative feelings through the day and this is likely to help encourage more restful sleep. If you are experiencing severe stress and anxiety then cognitive behavioural therapy may be of help and can be accessed through the NHS: but there is often a waiting list.
Sleep protocols of Olympians
By Nathan Douglas, double olympian triple jumper
For Olympians, one of the most important contributors to maintaining the energy and wellbeing to continually perform at the highest levels in training and competition is their quality of sleep.
Here's a list of suggestions from Nathan:
- consistent pre-sleep routine a couple of hours before bed/Circadian rhythms - this tunes your brain and body to know when to chill and that bedtime is approaching e.g warm bath, soft/calming music, comfortable clothing, milk, read a book, hot chocolate, meditation.
- alcohol intake low, preferably none.
- no caffeine, no chocolate, no fizzy drinks before bed.
- avoid excess water late in the evening, so you don’t have to get up in the middle of the night.
- exercise is very good but avoid strenuous exercise too close to bed time as it can have the effect of keeping you awake. A long walk early in the evening is ideal and can help de-stress you too.
- room at cool temperature.
- room as dark as possible. Blackout curtains, block any artificial light also.
- limit gadget activity and once in bed no gadget/social media activity at all.
- no emails/work in the evening. The evening is yours to relax.
- busy day the next day? Write a list of to do’s so that you can empty your brain and your brain can rest.
- if your mind is racing during the night, stay calm, getting angry makes it worse. Notice your voice in your mind, it will likely be talking fast, slow it down as if you’re talking like you’re very, very, tired.
- if working away and staying in a hotel, take good earplugs and eye mask. I use Hearos.
- your bedroom is for sleeping or one other thing….. make it that, so that you associate it with sleep. Never work in there: no watching TV, no heavy discussions, no eating. Never go to bed if you’re not sleepy and try to force yourself to sleep.
- aim for 7-9 hours sleep. We are all different when it comes to our sleep. We may need more or less than others depending upon what stressors we are going through, our age, exercise levels etc. It's a safe bet to say you'll need at least 7 hours and remember it is quality that matters. Waking up always feeling tired is a sign something is not quite right. Buy a monitor like Fitbit and see exactly what is going on.
ALSO, CLICK HERE FOR A LINK TO THE BRITISH ATHLETICS SLEEP STRATEGY FOR CAMPS AND COMPETITIONS YOUTUBE VIDEO
For more advice and specific help on certain sleep disorders please explore these links:
Alzheimer’s wake-up call - Can getting quality sleep help prevent the disease?
Published by Harvard Medical School September, 2017
Additional helpful NHS guides:
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© 2012 7Futures Ltd. 7Futures Ltd offers general information which is for educational purposes only. The information provided here is not a prescription system and is not intended to be a substitute for professional exercise or medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This article is for general information purposes only and should not be read as a personal recommendation for changes in lifestyle behaviour, nutrition, or exercise. 7Futures cannot be held responsible for any injury or illness relating to any such lifestyle or behavioural changes undertaken.