Did you know that sleep deprivation and losing hours of sleep have a similar effect to being intoxicated? A study shows that if you stay awake for about 18 hours (for example, waking up at 7:00 am and staying up until 1:00 am) you reach cognitive impairments as severe as significant intoxication (0.1%, which is legally drunk in most places).
When we have a bad night’s sleep or lack of sleep in general, our brain and body need to work harder to stay alert and keep going. This may make us feel fatigued, in a low mood, stressed, forgetful, slower in reaction times, prone to headaches and muscle pain, always hungry and gaining weight. Before we know it, sleep deprivation can affect the quality of our relationships, work performance, energy levels, concentration and memory, and even our resilience.
Yes, despite the clear negative effects of lack of sleep in our daily lives, chronic lack of sleep is more common now than ever.
How Sleep Benefits Body and Mind
Sleep is vital for the health of the body and mind, as many studies have found. Regulating hormone production, muscle repair, and boosting the immune system are just some of the ways that sleep benefits the body. People who get a good night’s sleep also tend to have:
- better memory
- better problem-solving skills
- better concentration and mental agility
- brain support to fight infection and repair after injury or trauma.
During sleep, a whole host of body functions happen automatically. Our body produces melatonin, which controls sleeping patterns and growth hormones, which are responsible for cellular growth and repair. Levels of our stress hormone, cortisol, also drop, allowing us to rest.
When we are able to achieve quality deep sleep, our immune system gets a boost as the body releases proteins called cytokines, which fight inflammation and infections. Each cell in our body produces waste to live and during sleep, all the cellular waste is taken away to be disposed of. Research published by Boston University showed that when we sleep the cerebrospinal fluid flushes our brain, collecting and disposing of cellular waste such as a build-up of proteins. This improves the blood flow in the brain and helps prevent degenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s.
As sleep cleans cellular waste in the body, it also allows the mind to declutter. The mind needs rest after a whole day of processing information: brain synapses (the areas connecting neurons that pass electric impulses) are stimulated by our interactions with our environment. During sleep the synapses slow down their activity to normal levels, enabling the regeneration of neurons in the cerebral cortex. This is a restorative process for the brain called neuroplasticity when the brain re-wires itself and builds new neural connections.
Sleep is also neuroprotective, i.e., it helps the brain to consolidate what we have learned during the day, organising information into what to keep and what to discard, all while recharging itself, therefore reducing mental fatigue. Sleep can literally “sweep the cobwebs” of the brain and helps shape our long-term memory.
On an emotional level, undisturbed sleep releases dopamine, the neurotransmitter responsible for feeling good and for lowering pain. The sympathetic nervous system, responsible for our response to stress, also slows down during sleep.
Enabling the Sleep Cycle in 10 mins
Sleep issues are difficult to tackle on your own because they are often deeply rooted and influenced by our daily routines and stress levels. Finding solutions to help you sleep is not an easy task, but Sophrology recognises that everyone’s routines, sleep predispositions, needs and chronotypes are different. There is no one-size-fits-all sleep solution and following a rigid sleep plan is not going to work or feel good. Further, as stress can be a common trigger, it is vital to find a solution that is easy, practical and does not add to or disrupt our busy daily routines.
Sophrology has a phenomenological approach to sleep which in essence means that as you systematically journey through different 10-min Sophrology practices a day, you can discover and unlock whatever prevents you from enjoying restful deep sleep. As you uncover the root cause of your issues, you will develop a toolbox for life which will not only support you in accessing quality deep sleep but also help you connect with your mind and body more and identify your needs throughout the day. Sleep, after all, is not just about what you do at night but throughout the whole day.
Breaking the Stress Cycle to Improve the Sleep Cycle
It’s important to understand the mechanism of sleep to be able to uncover the right solutions for you. Tackling and overcoming stress is one of the first things that can be addressed when it comes to improving sleep quality.
States of stress and tension can stimulate the production of stress hormones, cortisol, and noradrenaline, which raises our blood pressure and heart rate, therefore inhibiting the production of the sleep hormone, melatonin. When we are stressed it can also put our brains in overdrive. The brain awakening centre further stimulates brain activity, vigilance and thinking, preventing us from sleeping.
In these situations, managing anxiety levels throughout the day can be key to getting a better quality night’s rest. While we may be tempted to soothe our anxiety with alcohol or recreational drugs, to boost our concentration with endless caffeinated drinks and to reach for junk food because it’s easier than preparing a healthy meal, these habits rob us of precious energy during the day and make us feel wired at night.
How can Sophrology Help?
Sophrology is a simple and easy technique to improve body awareness, manage stress and fix our sleeping patterns. It can be done anytime, anywhere and only requires 10 minutes a day. It has been used for decades in sleep clinics and hospitals across Europe as a complementary therapy alongside standard treatment for people with insomnia. How exactly can Sophrology support you?
- When stress is not processed correctly, our daily experiences can create stress or a fight or flight response without us even knowing it. We may start experiencing brain fog, fatigue, anger, irritability, unexplained aches and tension. As we accumulate this stress, it can become difficult for the body to go back to a neutral, stress-free state, making us even more susceptible to stress and restorative sleep harder to achieve. This is called the negative stress cycle. Sophrology is a quick and easy guided practice that only requires 10 mins a day and supports us in building body awareness so we can recognise when we are in the negative stress cycle and help us safely get out of it.
- Strengthening the mind-body connection and becoming more aware of our body can help us notice when we become stressed way before we reach a fully anxious state. It supports us in knowing when we need to give our mind and body the space it needs to de-stress and find balance. Sophrology’s quick exercises can assist in re-establishing a more conscious mind-body connection, to help us become more aware of how we feel throughout the day and when we need to take breaks to avoid feeling overwhelmed and overworked when night time comes.
- Through a sequence of breathing, relaxation and visualisation exercises, Sophrology can help balance the nervous system when it’s agitated, releasing muscle tension, clearing the mind and helping to lower the body’s physiological response to stress.
- Sophrology also assists in helping us quickly reach the alpha brain wave state, a deeply healing state to calm the mind, relax the body and encourage peaceful sleep. The Sophrology exercises are quick and guided with gentle movements which are especially helpful for those who struggle to stay still for a long time. These gentle movements also support you in quickly calming the mind by focusing on the body instead of racing or anxious thoughts.
- Sophrology helps to create a positive mental association with sleep: people who have experienced sleep problems for a long time may have lost confidence in their ability to fall asleep and feel anxious when bedtime comes as they imagine anxiously lying in bed unable to sleep. Our bodies can’t tell the difference physiologically between a worry and an actual threat and respond to it in the same way so we might trigger our bodies into fight or flight mode simply by lying in bed worrying. A Sophrology exercise to improve the quality of your sleep is visualisation. You can start the process of shifting your perception of sleep from negative to positive and over time, it will help you to rewire your brain so you can look forward to bedtime once again.
What Other Lifestyle Changes can we Make to Promote Sleep?
The secret to a good night’s sleep is in preparation, getting to know our body and having a routine. The body tends to do better when our days follow a routine such as having set meal times and going to bed at the same time. Here are some simple lifestyle changes that can improve sleep quality:
- reducing or avoiding alcohol, sugar and caffeinated drinks like tea and coffee
- going to bed at the same time every night and aiming to get up at the same time each morning, even at weekends
- getting some fresh air in the morning and having breakfast
- avoiding looking at a screen at least an hour before bedtime and ideally keeping the phone switched off or in a different room at night
- using an alarm clock instead of your phone to check the time
- keeping a notepad next to the bed in case you get an idea in the middle of the night or remember something that needs solving
- exercising during the first part of the day and not in the evening
- creating a bedtime routine such as having a bath or a herbal tea
- keeping the bedroom at a slightly cool temperature
- ensuring you replace your mattress every 6-8 years to prevent back pain
- avoiding getting into arguments or being exposed to upsetting news stories before going to bed, focusing instead of managing your emotions
- eating an evening meal with foods rich in tryptophan, magnesium, calcium and vitamin B6 that promote sleep
- consistently practising Sophrology for at least 10 minutes a day.
If you want a more personalised guide for a night meditation to improve your sleep, talking to a Sophrologist can assist you in creating your own ‘sleep profile’ based on your lifestyle.
But if you want to give Sophrology a try today, you can start with this simple Sophrology exercise when you go to bed tonight:
Start by relaxing each and every part of your body with a Body Scan: with your eyes closed, breathe in and, as you breathe out, focus on an area from the head down to the feet, inviting it to relax.
You can visualise yourself sleeping soundly and deeply: in your mind’s eye look at your surroundings, how your bedroom looks and feels, and how comfortable your bed is. See yourself falling asleep quickly and easily, enjoying the deep relaxation and recuperation of sleep. Through repetition, getting into a relaxed mental state will become easier and so will falling asleep.
If you are ready to dive deeper into your journey with Sophrology you can discover our 5-day Sleep Like a Pro online course.