Sleep Guide – An introduction to the no-nonsense guide to sleep.
Welcome to the no-nonsense sleepyhead blog sleep guide series.
In this blog, we take advantage of everything that I have learnt in over 15 years of sleep medicine, research and around 10,000 patients with all sorts of sleep disorders in one and the same sleep guide.
This sleep guide will help educate you on sleep – the right way.
“If you don’t sleep well you will DIE”.
“A third of the population has SLEEP DEPRIVATION.”
“Sleeping less than 6 hours a night increases the chance of death’
“1200 tips to make you sleep better”
‘YOU HAVE TO LIVE LIKE A MONK TO SLEEP WELL AND LIVE LONGER.’
We have heard it all before:
Don’t get me wrong, I am really happy that sleep is finally being recognised as one of the ‘pillars of health’ in medicine and our lives in general.
Most of my career has been spent trying to convince the powers that be that sleep needs to be on our agenda, that educating everybody (in the right way) on healthy sleep could be the key to avoiding complex illness, improving quality of life dramatically and even turning the economy around and making us well, happy (something that these days feels ever-elusive).
I would even argue it supersedes nutrition and exercise as the key pillar to health (naturally I would say this, and you shouldn’t listen to me verbatim, critical thinking is your friend here, not me) – but this blog isn’t about arguing the importance of sleep. There are plenty of those already, and guess what – They aren’t helping people get a better night’s sleep!
In fact, our obsession with sleep has increased our anxieties and worries around our sleep – a danger I will argue, is far more serious than a poor night’s sleep.
More and more am I seeing patients as a direct consequence of this phenomenon, and the scary thing is, this kind of fear can actually lead to significant sleep issues.
Imagine worrying yourself into exactly the problem you fear the most!
It is scary how we have become obsessed about how many hours of sleep we need, or how many hours of sleep we will get or if we can get to sleep RIGHT NOW. So how so many of us are
now fearing ‘going to bed at exactly the same time each night’ (a common and often misinterpreted piece of advice) and getting into bed only to be MORE wired than you were downstairs with all the lights on and the TV blaring!
I mean, let’s really think about this logically for a second… are we really assuming that the mere act of taking ourselves off to bed should suddenly flip the sleep/wake switch? If only!
Even the idea of ‘sleep debt’ or, ‘catching up with sleep’ is wildly misunderstood.
The problem is, beliefs are pesky because they have a direct influence on our behaviour and this is where the bugbear lies for me – the behaviours that these false sleep beliefs
encourage, are actually causing sleep problems, and us sleep savvy people banging on about the importance of sleep is only increasing the worry around the belief, and therefore increasing our downright strange behaviours.
In other words – the things you may have been doing in the last 20 years to try and resolve that long-standing insomnia issue you may be having (even though you followed ALL the advice), are exactly the things that are fueling it. Sorry – it really is that simple.
In this episode of the sleep guide, we will explore why it’s all too easy to blame deficiencies, hormones, drugs, pain…. Basically, anything but the thing we have control over the most, our own behaviour (more about blame and the triggers of sleep problems later!).
Sleep is fascinating, especially when manipulating it in a lab, I should know – that’s how I started my career – and it pulled me in hook, line and sinker. When you KNOW exactly how
powerful sleep can be it is hard to unlearn – sleep is amazing.
I wanted to shout about it to the world! But in the right way!
We all sleep, and we all have an opinion about it, and it would be all too easy for me to stand on the shoulders of other people’s work – quoting weird and wonderful research facts
and figures to fascinate and engage you in the area of sleep medicine, to prove to you its importance. But what has this really lead to?
Are we all feeling confident about how to sleep well and how to educate our children to sleep well? Err no. If anything we are all having a massive freak out about not doing it properly. Fear. Education has to lead to… Fear?!
And the worst part is, the way we are disseminating the information is wrong.
Indeed some fellow peers have gone down this route – and their writings have become incredibly popular, as have sleep trackers, relaxation devices and the general sleep
Have we seen a dramatic reduction in that third of the population that have sleep problems? Nope. In fact, we have created a new sleep problem…. Orthosomnia!
Wait what was that? We actually created a problem?
The problem is, we aren’t talking about whether bacon gives you cancer here, we are talking about something we all do whether we want to or not, it’s a compulsory part of life.
Is this a problem?
Well yes, I think so, especially when the facts and figures and research we like to use to create our arguments can be heavily biased, shouldn’t always be generalised to
everyone and may be less significant in the grand scheme of well, life outside the research setting (ergo, I won’t say no to the odd bacon sandwich). That’s not to say I don’t like an
evidence base – I am a scientist after all! But when we are talking about something so pivotal to our health… a little caution wouldn’t go amiss in telling the story.
A classic example of this is the health food industry – the mistakes we have made there such as fat being the enemy of weight loss and building an entire economy out of that
information, ‘the low-fat options’ promising to keep us thin… only now to be told the enemy is in fact dirty, insidious, sugar! Doesn’t seem we have learnt much here… blaming one
singular nutrient for another and treating it like an evil monster…
But I won’t take on that argument here today – do check out ‘the angry chef’ by Anthony Warner though, he’ll have a right old rant about it – I’ll stick to sleep thank you, otherwise my head might explode.
These ways of disseminating information influence us something chronic. Not thinking critically about what we are told, has consequences.
I for one have grown up fearing butter to the point where I would buy something that probably doesn’t have any food in it resembling the colour of butter but tastes a bit like licking wall paper paste – even though I logically now know this to be a bit ridiculous…
But the damage is done and the notions I grew up with are hard to shake and this has had consequences on my diet.
Now imagine we make a sleepless night just as evil… Oh no wait! We have.
We talk about sleep like we talk about the weather. We make it responsible for everything good and bad.
Its new and zeitgeisty and the next big thing in wellbeing.
What I will concern myself with here, for your reading, is how realistically and using critical thinking – you can look after yourself throughout your life by looking after those precious sleeping hours WITHOUT completely changing your life to living that of a monk, WITHOUT obsessive sleep rituals and routines, WITHOUT giving up all the things in life that you love, WITHOUT being
terrified of what not sleeping might do.
I will give you the secret to a good sleeper and it won’t be what you’re expecting.
After all, how many good sleepers do you know that spend hours of time with rituals and rulemaking to ENSURE that they sleep well?! Yeah me neither.
So why do you think they will help you???
Yet insomnia is becoming more common, even with our so-called education in sleep and our new booming sleep economy…
YOU ARE STILL HERE.
Well, bloody done! You are doing really well!
Because despite how you are sleeping right now, despite what you have heard about not sleeping and all the research you have done and hours you have spent worrying, you are still HERE and you are surviving, (most of you are thriving actually).
If you were as sleep-deprived and sick as the current sleep ideologies would have you believe, well then you would probably be in a hospital or worse, dead.
Remember Sleepyheads – if you want some support for chronic sleep issues, contact us now for treatment.
Alternatively, if you want to fix sleep yourself for good, becoming your own sleep expert, why not do my DIY sleep course online: www.sleepyheadprogram.com