Health & Fitness Wellness

Are you getting the sleep you need?

Missing out on shut-eye can be detrimental to our physical and mental health. Bupa has partnered with sleep expert Professor Richard Wiseman and The School of Life to bring you this guide to enjoying more Zs.


Why is sleep so important?

According to Ana Noia, Senior Clinical Physiologist in Neurophysiology and Sleep at Bupa Cromwell Hospital in the UK, sleep plays a vital role in improving our ability to learn, regulating the way our body breaks down food into energy (metabolism), and reducing mental fatigue.

The effects of getting insufficient sleep – reduced concentration, tiredness and irritability – are well known. Ana says sleep deprivation can also have a big impact on our health, increasing the likelihood of stress, and the risk of heart disease, high blood pressure, weight abnormalities and more.

What happens when you go to sleep?

You pass through two main phases of sleep in regular cycles: rapid eye movement (REM) sleep and non-rapid eye movement (nonREM) sleep. Each full cycle takes about one to two hours, and it’s during the REM phase that we dream – something Professor Wiseman says you can turn to your advantage.

“Your dreams can play a surprisingly important role in your psychological wellbeing,” he says, citing one benefit as giving your brain the ability to solve problems while you sleep.

He recommends making a note of a difficult life issue before you go to bed – it might be whether you should change jobs or sell your house – and see if you can find a solution in your dreams.

Are you out of sleep sync?

Richard believes that many of us are suffering a major epidemic of sleeplessness, which could be corrected by paying more attention to our sleep cycles, or circadian rhythms. Regular flights can disrupt these rhythms, as can the blue light emitted by devices. Simple fixes can include installing blackout blinds at home, wearing an eye mask, using ear plugs or a white-noise machine or app, and switching on a fan during hotter months to keep your bedroom cool. Also, monitor what you drink before bedtime. Caffeine can act as a stimulant, so consider substituting that 4pm latte for a herbal infusion instead. And steer clear of too much alcohol right before bed.

You’ll feel this good if you follow BUPA’s advice

How to fall asleep

If you’re still struggling to fall asleep, Richard suggests embracing reverse psychology. “Trying not to think about certain things causes you to think the thoughts you’re trying to avoid. While this might sound strange, if you’re struggling to go to sleep then try to stay awake!”

You might also find it easier to maintain a balanced sleeping pattern by following these simple routine-boosting steps:

  • Go to bed and get up at around the same time each day and night
  • Try to avoid sleeping late, as this can reset your sleep cycle and make it harder to get up early when you need to
  • Only nap if you feel you need to catch up on sleep, and if you do, keep it under an hour
  • Relax and wind down before bed.
  • Enjoy a bath, take 10 minutes to reflect on the day, or read (not on a device)

When nothing works

When you find it difficult to get to sleep, or to stay asleep long enough to feel refreshed when you wake up, you have insomnia. It can be short or long term, and generally falls into two categories: primary insomnia (no obvious cause) and secondary insomnia (usually caused by another health condition). If disrupted sleep patterns are a regular occurrence, see your GP. Most sleep disorders can be treated, so discussing your habits with an expert will help them give you advice and support – they might even refer you to a sleep specialist.

This article was brought to you by Bupa Global.

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This article first appeared in the Dec/Jan edition of Expat Living magazine. Subscribe now so you never miss an issue.

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