I don’t function without a good night’s sleep. If I’m hungry or thirsty I can cope, but lack of sleep? Nope!!! I lack motivation, concentration and I can (or so I’m told) be extremely irritable. So, what is it about sleep that we need so badly?
In fact, when I decided to write this article I (rather smugly) thought that I had a good sleep routine. I exercise regularly.
I get up at the same time every morning (work or not). After a little light reading, I go to bed between 10pm and 10:30pm every night. So, why did I feel the need to have midday siesta today?
Yep! I had a nap! I closed the curtains, crawled into bed and cat-napped for 30 minutes. So, despite following a bedtime routine, there’s something I’m clearly missing.
I’ve noticed it while back but quite honestly, I've not done enough about it. It’s just one more thing I need to get around to sorting. But it’s impacting my life?
As much of the world remains in lockdown due to the Coronavirus pandemic some of us are really struggling to get a good night’s sleep.
So, what better time to revaluate our sleep routines and establish better sleep habits?
In this article, I wanted to answer some of those questions, why do we sleep, why is sleep so important and most importantly, what we can do to sleep better?
Hi, I'm Rebecca! And I truly love everything about the art, science, and teaching of singing. If you're looking to build an effective and healthier singing technique so that you can sing with more ease and confidence, then you're in the right place! Here's a few other blog posts you might also like to read:
And of course, grab a copy of my ultimate vocal health starter guide where I'll share how to create a vocal health routine and reset your voice in 14-days!
WHY DO WE SLEEP?
Sleep is a biological necessity.
Some can survive on as little as 4 hours a night and some requiring as many as 11 hours.
But the average person needs between 6 and 9 hours per night.
However, our scientific understanding of why we need to sleep has only just scratched the surface.
In his Ted Talk, ‘Why do we sleep’, Russell Foster discusses some of the research that has tried to answer that very question.
On a very basic level, we know that a lack of sleep impacts our physical and mental health and wellbeing.
HOW DO WE SLEEP?
Through numerous research studies, it has been determined that we sleep in a cyclic pattern.
Each cycle consists of three stages of Non-REM sleep (N1, N2 and N3) followed by one stage of Rapid Eye Movement, more commonly known as REM sleep.
For adults, each cycle lasts approximately 90-110 minutes.
Roughly, that equates to approximately 4 – 5 cycles per night.
Interestingly, (I did not know this!) at the end of each cycle it is completely normal to wake and become a little more alert.
I don’t know about you, but I always thought that waking in the middle of the night meant that I was having broken sleep.
And this contributed to my tiredness.
I also thought (incorrectly, it would now seem) that I should be sleeping right through the night without interruption.
Anyway, the first of each sleep cycle is the non-REM stage, N1.
This is the transition from wake to sleep and is the lightest stage of sleep.
The second stage, N2 is where we spend half of the night.
Researchers don’t know a lot about the non-REM N2 stage but believe that it’s related to memory.
The third stage, N3 or Slow Wave Sleep (SWS), is deep sleep.
This is perhaps the most important stage of your sleep cycle.
This is the type of sleep that makes you feel rested and energised in the morning.
Studies have also shown that we all require the same amount of N3 or SWS sleep regardless of whether we sleep 4 or 11 hours per night.
It is therefore believed that humans require a minimum amount of N3 sleep per night.
Unhelpfully, they didn’t say how much exactly we need.
The last stage, the REM stage is synonymous with intense and story-like dreams before waking.
WHY SLEEP IS IMPORTANT
I think we all know that the lack of sleep can impact all aspects of our daily personal and professional lives.
And that long term (or in my case even in the short term) it impacts our physical, mental and emotional health and wellbeing.
Lack of sleep is known to reduce and/or impair:
Relationships (professional and personal)
On the darker side, lack of sleep affects the functionality of our memory, suppresses our immune system and increases our likelihood of developing type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease.
Although research is still investigating exactly why sleep is so important, I think that it is already clear that ensuring we get enough sleep each night is a priority to maintaining our overall health and wellbeing.
From the perspective of a singer and voice teacher, I always recommend that students (professional and amateur) incorporate a good night-time routine that works for them as part of their vocal health hygiene.
It is exceptionally important that singers and professional voice users maintain a good level of physical, mental and emotional wellbeing to be able to perform at optimum levels.
Over an extended period of time, this could potentially lead to vocal health problems.
Over an extended period of time, this could potentially lead to vocal health problems.
Lack of sleep will also likely affect your energy levels, motivation and concentration on both performance and practising effectively.
>>Related<< Ultimate Guide to Vocal Health
HOW TO GET A GOOD NIGHT’S SLEEP
As I said earlier, I so smugly thought that I had a good routine but this article has shown that there are improvements to be made. And adaptions, depending on the circumstances.
So, whether you’re currently suffering from lack of sleep or an obitual sufferer of insomnia, the first step to getting enough sleep is to examine the reasons behind why you can’t sleep.
Are you not sleeping due to:
Work or family life (do you work shifts?)
Emotional stress due to bereavement or relationship break-ups
Lifestyle (i.e. excess alcohol, caffeinated drinks or napping or too much or lack of exercise)
Other reasons may be linked to:
Pregnancy (usually in the first 12 weeks)
Being overweight or obese
Undergoing radiotherapy or chemotherapy treatments for cancer
Carbon monoxide poisoning (have you had your boiler checked recently?)
Side effects from medication or herbal remedies.
Once you have examined any potential causes, ask yourself can you do anything to reduce the impact it is having on your sleep. For example, during this pandemic, many of us have financial worries.
And I’m sure many of us acknowledge our financial issues, we just don’t want to take the steps to try and improve the situation, like switching credit cards or energy providers to reduce expenditure.
This is not the fun part of being a grownup!
But if there’s a problem, it is essential to both your physical and mental health that you find the problem and work to try to resolve it quickly and not put it off.
Once you have done a thorough investigation and worked to resolve it, you can also improve the quality of your sleep, by considering the following:
Create a relaxing bedroom environmental that promotes sleep. This may mean redecorating (may I recommend neutral colours?), cleaning or decluttering the bedroom space.
The bedroom is for sleeping and should be calm and inviting.
Remove work stations, TVs and all electronic gadgets. The bedroom is for sleeping not working.
Also, try hanging heavy curtains to create maximum darkness and reduce your exposure to light.
Apparently, you should reduce your exposure to light about 30-minutes before trying to sleep.
This is perhaps more problematic during summer months so, think about blackout curtains or blinds.
This would be especially advantageous if you’re a shift worker and trying to sleep during the day.
Set the room to the right temperature. The ideal temperature for sleep is between 18c – 24c.
Reduce your exposure to noise whilst you sleep.
If you live on a busy road or big city consider earplugs to block out any excessive noise.
And don’t forget to think about your mattress.
Does it need replacing? How old is it? Is this the cause of your lack of sleep?
Setting a bedtime routine is really important, as this helps to program your brain and sets your internal clock.
This means going to bed at the same time each night and waking at the same time each morning.
A bedtime routine is particularly important for insomniacs.
As an important part of your bedtime routine, you should prepare your body and mind for sleep by:
Taking a warm bath
Clearing your mind of distractions by writing down ‘to-do lists’ and your worries
Relaxation exercises like meditation or yoga
Listening to audiobooks, relaxing music or calming sound effects (like waves crashing on the beach or rainfall)
Reading or listening to the radio
Try to avoid using smartphones, tablets or other electronic devices 1 hour before bed.
The blue light emitted by electronic devices like smartphones and tablets actually keeps your brain awake, so think about leaving your device outside the bedroom or in a drawer.
Keeping a Diary
Keeping track of your daily activities and food and drink intake is a useful way to determine anything that causes you not to sleep properly.
If you need to seek professional help for sleep problems, it is more than likely that you will be requested to keep a sleep diary or journal in any case before undergoing any form of treatment.
You may also want to consider sleep tracking apps, the Health app on iPhones or fitness watches to monitor sleep patterns.
Whilst vigorous exercise is not recommended within 3 hours of sleeping, exercise has proved to be an important part of aiding sleep.
It is recommended that vigorous exercise is undertaken in the morning.
If you’re not used to or unable to do vigorous exercising, a short 10-minute walk can be beneficial and help you sleep.
Alternatively, yoga or gentle stretching can help.
It’s important to note that it can take several months to reset your body clock and feel the full benefits of incorporating exercise into your lifestyle and help you sleep.
You can also improve sleep by avoiding:
caffeine (especially after lunch)
alcohol (NHS recommends no more than 14 units per week)
heavy meals late in the evening
If after all this, you’ve made all the necessary adjustments but are still struggling to sleep, visit the Sleepstation.
Sleepstation is a drug-free, clinically validated sleep improvement program that is available online and tailored to your individual needs. It’s also available free on the NHS.
You may also want to check out:
There are numerous Podcasts, YouTube channels and apps dedicated to helping you learn about sleep or help you drift into a peaceful slumber.
Sleep with me
Is one of the most popular Podcasts that tell stories that actually gradually get more boring and encourage you to drift off to sleep. Genius!
Sleep Matters Podcast
Hosted by sleep expert Dr Pixie McKenna this Podcast is more informative and helps you to understand sleep and provide helpful tips and tricks to falling asleep.