By Claire Aristedes
A GREAT NIGHT’S SLEEP WON’T JUST MAKE YOU FEEL BETTER, BUT IT WILL ACTUALLY KEEP YOUR BRAIN HEALTHY. CLAIRE ARISTIDES, CLINICAL HYPNOTHERAPIST AND FOUNDER OF MINDOLOGY APP, EXPLAINS
We’ve been told for many years about the importance of sleep, but did you know that sleep is not just a crucial time for our body’s wellbeing, but also our mind’s? In fact, sleep is so powerful that it can make or break us. Think about it on those nights you have a great sleep, you feel great the next day, but the nights you don’t, you don’t just feel tired, but you’ll also find yourself irritable, short-tempered, foggy and maybe even a bit scatty. That’s your brain telling you it’s unhealthy. So why exactly is sleep so vital?
When we sleep, we experience four cycles: three are non-REM (NREM) sleep, and one is Rapid Eye Movement Sleep (REM). During NREM sleep, the body is quite busy as it undergoes cellular maintenance work such as repairing itself, growing new tissue and building bone and muscle. As well as creating vital chemicals that strengthen our immune system circulate in our blood.
Another important task happens during the REM sleep phase: your brain clears out the information you do not need. Scientists have discovered that our brains actually have their own wastage system, the glymphatic system. It’s a macroscopic waste clearance system with special channels from the spinal column to the brain cavity that clear a surplus of toxic materials from corresponding brain fluids. When you sleep, it’s like the cleaners come in, and they pack and file away important things in the cupboard, sweep the floors, and take the rubbish out. A bad night’s sleep means our bodies can’t do the maintenance that’s required — that’s why we feel like a mess the next day; it’s because we are.
Creating a healthy sleep routine might take some time, but like any new habit, the key is to be consistent and make it work for you. Reduce the amount of screen time (or blue light) you’re exposed to before bed, consider wearing an eye mask and ensure your bed is comfortable and supportive. It’s also helpful to clear the mind too. Try keeping a journal or notebook beside the bed, have a relaxing bath or shower; minimise the consumption of alcohol and food and avoiding exercising too close to bedtime will also help.
Because sleep is so important, building a toolkit for yourself that you know works is the best thing you can do. Multiple techniques and relaxation strategies are available, but being such a personal practice, it’s important to figure out what works for you. If the thought of floating on a cloud is your worst nightmare, then perhaps you’ll prefer floating in a tropical pool? Don’t be afraid to pick up some tools as well. The Mindology app, for example, has a Sleep Series with Sleep Stories, Sleep Sounds and a Sleep Journal that are designed to help create new, more positive sleep habits, whatever your lifestyle might be.
And if you have a bad night’s sleep, tomorrow is a new day. We’ve all had those nights. Start again and tweak the routine if you need to. Life is busy, and there are so many things vying for our attention, so it may be a case of trial and error. Be patient with yourself; building new habits do take time, but the benefits are worth it. Sleep tight.
Claire Aristides is a clinical hypnotherapist and founder of Mindology, an app to calm and empower the mindset available on Apple and Android. @mindology.app; firstname.lastname@example.org
Insomniac tool kit
If you are suffering from sleep issues, here are simple, practical steps to embrace to help improve your sleep. Use these techniques to signal to your brain when it’s time to switch off and go to bed. It’ll thank you in the morning.
Deep breathing is a simple yet powerful technique. It activates the vagus nerve, which tells the brain to relax and engages the parasympathetic system, which is the rest and digest system. The following technique is called box breathing and a helpful technique to bring into your sleep routine.
Slowly exhale; slowly count to four as you inhale through your nose; hold your breath for four; exhale by slowly counting to four again.
Take this a step further by using your breath’s rhythm as a visualisation tool. Imagine as you breathe in, visualise the word “sleep’’ in your mind, say in your mind “sleep”, and as you exhale, send out any negative thoughts or worries and let them go.
SLEEP BLANKET BODY SCAN
The progressive muscle relaxation technique of tensing and releasing different muscle groups, from your toes to your head, is also a powerful technique that signals the body to rest. As you move from the toes up the body, in your mind, tell each part of you it’s time for quiet; it’s bedtime. Feel free to be creative and add in visualisations. Just imagine each part of your body preparing for a state of deep calm.
Some people like to imagine that a sleeping blanket or wave of relaxation is being draped over each body part, starting at the feet. This blanket is warm, comfortable and soothing, as it moves up the legs, up the torso, to the neck.
VISUALISE CALMING SCENES
Visualise yourself floating in water, relaxing and feeling light. As you float, imagine you are washing the cares of the day off you and drifting into a place of calm, restful sleep. Or, imagine you are floating on a cloud up into the skies, ready for a good night’s sleep.