One sheep, two sheep, three sheep… four. Sleep is something we all need, but many of us struggle with. There are things we can do to help, writes Tanja Koch.
18 May is World Sleep Day, which got me thinking about the type of sleep I’ve had throughout my life. Have I slept too much? Not enough? How many times have I woken up feeling completely refreshed?
We all need sleep, but the amount we need is unique from person to person. Experts recommend 7 to 8 hours a day for most adults, but I know colleagues who get by on much less. What’s important is whether the amount of sleep we get allows us to function properly throughout the day.
In my role as a counsellor at the Royal College of Nursing, I speak regularly with nursing staff whose sleep patterns have become disrupted because of stress, anxiety and depression.
When there are a million things on the mind, including problems at work or financial pressures at home, relaxing into a deep sleep can seem almost impossible. The knock-on effect is we go into work feeling fatigued, with a short temper and a lack of focus.
It’s important to remember that we all struggle with sleep at times. And although there is no magic formula to help you nod off, there are simple adjustments we can make to give us the best chance of a good night’s sleep:
- Sleep in a cool, quiet and dark room
- Keep to a regular bedtime. For shift workers, this means having around 4 core hours of sleep around the same time each day
- Stop watching TV or using your computer, tablet or mobile approximately 30 minutes before your bedtime
- Try to get an adequate amount of exposure to sunlight every day
- Avoid consuming caffeine, alcohol or nicotine several hours before going to bed.
While counting sheep can actually make us feel more alert, rather than relaxed, there are proven techniques stress relief exercises available to help us wind down, including progressive muscle relaxation.
We all have our own rituals before we go to bed, but the most important thing is finding a routine and sticking to it. This will teach our brains to become familiar with our sleep times and wake times, and help us get the rest we deserve.