There are nights when sleep envelopes my mind in a soft haze before I can even fully close my eyes. At other times my ceiling taunts me for hours with the day’s events replaying on its surface in my mind’s eye. The thought of sleep is so sweet but it remains out of reach while I toss my blankets in a heap of frustration until the pink dawn. One night is tolerable. But sleeplessness seldom comes in multiples of one. By morning 6, I have to drag myself to go for a walk. Brain dull, thoughts slow, emotions short but I do my usual walk. Same pace, same distance, same route however, this morning my hip is aching like crazy.
It hasn’t done this for ages, I’ve done all the right things. What’s happening to me? My body is probably fine, it’s the lack of sleep, that’s what’s happening. My brain is the interpretation centre of pain and at this stage it is overloaded. A minor irritation is being catastrophised by a brain that is struggling to interpret the messages from my nerves. It has experienced severe pain from this area before so it switches to the subconscious and goes with a memory it has stored rather than the current reality of a niggle.
It is not just sleeplessness that has this effect on the brain, it is also poor quality of sleep and a myriad of other external and internal factors that can overload the brain.
The bucket theory and sleep
A good analogy is the bucket theory. The contents of the bucket is our body’s capacity to tolerate load on it. However, if we overload, the bucket overflows, and in turn we experience pain. The bucket gets loaded up by things like stress, poor diet, lack of sleep, lack of exercise, negative self talk. If these things fill the bucket to almost the very top, our capacity to handle load is reduced and it doesn’t take much to make it over flow into a sea of pain.
We can empty the bucket a tiny bit by taking anti-inflammatories or painkillers or resting from activity for a few days. But this would only help until we overfill the bucket again with small activities that should not hurt. What we should focus on is removing the stuff that reduces our capacity to tolerate load.
Let’s focus on sleeplessness and poor quality of sleep to start with.
How can we help the body get more quality of sleep?
Sleep hygiene 101
1. Swith off and disconnect
Don’t look at a screen (TV, mobile, laptop or tablet) for at least 30-60 minutes before going to bed. The light reduces your brain’s capacity to release melatonin which is needed for sleep.
2. Don’t stimulate your brain
Read something that does not stimulate your thinking before bed and preferably a real book with real pages. No financial news or text books. Your brain will be up for hours trying to solve the world’s problems given half a chance.
3. Have a notebook handy
Have a notebook and pen handy on your bedside table. If you think of something that you need to do the next day or a clever idea you’re afriad you’ll forget, write it down and address it in the morning. This is especially useful for the person with an analytical mind.
4. Avoid large meals & stimulants
If you suffer from reflux, don’t have anything to drink or eat for at least 2-3 hours before going to bed. Also, avoid large meals at night.
Avoid drinking or eating any stimulants before bed. Anything containing caffeine is a stimulant no matter how little effect you may think it has on you. Yes, coffee and black tea are stimulants.
5. Drink water, not alcohol for better quality sleep
Avoid drinking alcohol at night. You may think it helps you fall asleep but it robs you of sleep quality, especially REM sleep.
Have a glass of water on your bedside table. If you are thirsty and have to get up to fetch water, you are less likely to fall asleep again.
6. Keep the lights off
If you do have to get up for a toilet break in the middle of the night, avoid turning lights on or looking at screens. Light can make your brain think it is daytime making it harder to fall asleep again when you are back in bed.
7. Get a decent pillow
Get a decent pillow that is hypoallergenic and supports your neck properly. See our blog regarding sleep position and pillows to help you decide what is best for you. A decent mattress is also important. It must be hard enough to support your spine but give way at your hips and shoulders (the heaviest and bulkiest part of the body).
8. Include sleep in your routine
Develop a bedtime routine that helps your mind and body wind down and know that sleep is next. Sticking with a specific time helps but more importantly, get to bed at a time that gives you a minimum of 7hours sleep. A warm shower, a cup of herbal tea, a few pages of your favourite book can all form part of the wind down. It is about building a healthy bedtime habit that makes your body know the reward that is coming is good night of sleep.
9. Use earplugs if it’s too noisy
If you live in a noisy place or there is a lot of light pouring in, invest in a good pair of earplugs and eye mask to attain silence and darkness. If you are like me living in Umhlanga through Matric Rage, earplugs are a godsend.
10. Keep TV and work out the bedroom
Don’t have a TV or do work in your bedroom. The bedroom is for sleep and sex. Take proper note of this one because TV and work can ruin both of those.
11. Sleep at a comfortable temperature
Find your comfortable temperature for sleeping and invest in the technology/products that help maintain that temperature. Cooler is better than hot but we all know that if those toes are cold, sleep will evade you.
Although this advice and information is based on sound knowledge it is still followed at your own risk. I cannot take any responsibility for injuries or health conditions that may arise as a result of my advice. Videos and advice are generalised and cannot replace the individualised advice provided after a medical assessment by your local healthcare professional.