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A Different Way to Think About Sleep?

Sleep is extremely important for our health, possibly more so than diet or exercise and yet for many of us it can cause a lot of stress and upset when we struggle to sleep well enough. It often seems that the more we try, the harder it is to fall asleep. Many of us will resort to caffeine to get through the day next day and often, that caffeine can exacerbate the problem to a huge extent. Good sleep hygiene can make a huge difference to setting us up for success and many people know to reduce or eliminate caffeine after noon. Did you also know that the blue light that phones emit can inhibit the production of melatonin which is necessary to signal to our brains that it is nearing sleep time? It might be possible to reduce the blue light and it is definitely possible to switch off the phone at bedtime even though it does have an allure for us.

Did you know that it is totally normal to wake several times through the night? At around 90 minute intervals we rise out of the depths but possibly won't rise enough to register that we have wakened. However, we might be able to utilise this pattern better. Nick Littlehales, an elite sports coach, describes the myth of the 8 hours, a myth that can feed into our anxiety in the wee small hours.


Our bodies are governed by Circadian Rhythms which regulates our internal systems such as sleeping, eating, alertness, mood and digestion. These are ingrained within us and we can't alter them so perhaps learning how to go with the flow would be more helpful. Littlehales recommends that we sleep in cycles and not hours. We anchor a constant wake time and then count back in 90 minute cycles. As an example if your wake time is 7am, 10 pm would allow for 6 full cycles. You can aim for your ideal time at least 4 times over a week. If you can't get a full cycle, hold off until you can. So 11.30pm would allow for 5 cycles by 7am. Sounds complicated? I count in 3s which makes it easier - 2 cycles equals 3 hours. Give it a go, you might begin to notice a reduction in your stress about the time you have left in the night. I have been doing this for the past few years and my anchored time doesn't alter and my sleep has been much improved.


Let's now turn our thoughts to the teenager. How often do parents harass their teen for staying up late and not getting up with the lark? How many morning conflicts have there been around this subject I wonder. Well, it might be very useful for parents to know that the circadian rhythm of the teen has naturally adjusted so that the natural pull to sleep shifts progressively forward. So that they are not ready to sleep until after midnight. There is a biological reason for this in that the brain is, at this point, performing functions to complete its development. The teen brain has not yet formed the part that has judgement, reason and critical thinking and needs sleep for the brain to finish its job. Sadly, the expectation of the parent and of the social norm means that while they stay up late they are still expected to rise early enough to be at school or work and expected to perform effectively. What a horrible struggle for them, made somewhat worse when they feel like they are always in trouble for being lazy. They are not being lazy at all, but are driven by nature. So if you are a parent or a teacher of a colleague of an adolescent perhaps this information will help smooth the waters a little bit for you all.


If you need help for your own sleep or to navigate the choppy waters of parenting a teenager, please get in touch.





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