Why Do We Need Sleep?
Sleep is essential to maintaining normal levels of cognitive skills such as speech, memory, and concentration. We will all have experienced times when we have been sleep deprived, and start to show the classic signs: grumpiness, grogginess, irritability and forgetfulness. Over a longer period of time, not getting enough sleep can lead to problems in the areas of the brain that control language, memory, planning, and sense of time.
Sleep is also important for restoring our bodies. Research shows that people who are deprived of sleep for long periods experience more aches and pains and have a lower tolerance for pain, with increased levels discomfort and fatigue.
Difficulties With Sleep
Problems with sleep are common for people who have persistent symptoms. Some people find that they are sleeping too much, while others find that they are not sleeping enough, or not sleeping well. If you experience problems with sleep there are several things you can do to help yourself. The strategies we suggest have been shown through research to be effective in managing sleep difficulties.
Keeping a regular sleep routine and developing sleep rituals can help train your body when to sleep, improving sleep quality. You can do this by:
- Getting up and going to bed at the same time every day (even weekends!)
- Avoiding napping in the day, or keeping naps brief if you must nap, and before 3 p.m.
- Taking a warm bath a couple of hours before bed – this can also cause a drop in body temperature, triggering sleep
- Putting aside worries – e.g. by writing them down or practising mindfulness
- Developing your individual before-bed ritual – e.g. having a hot (caffeine-free) drink or doing breathing exercises.
If you lie in bed when feeling awake, or use your bed for other activities like working or watching TV, your mind no longer associates being in bed with sleep. It is therefore helpful to:
- Only use your bed for sleeping (and sex)
- If not asleep after 30 minutes, get up and do something calming until you are sleepy again
- Use mindfulness techniques to accept the thoughts in your head and see the benefits of the rest that you are getting, rather than becoming anxious
- Only go to bed when feeling sleepy.
It is important to avoid caffeine, nicotine and alcohol in the few hours before bed. Caffeine and nicotine stimulate your mind, keeping you awake. Whilst some people believe alcohol helps them to get to sleep, it actually interrupts sleep quality, preventing you from getting deep, restorative sleep. Avoiding these for a few hours before bed, or at least limiting your consumption, will therefore improve your sleep.
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See our general 'Sleep' resources page for further information.
Worksheet 4.1 - Thoughts And Sleep