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Sleep Patterns

Written: 26th Feb 2019

Sleep is a vital function of our life and living. Anyone who is getting poor sleep will tell you about the unpleasant impact of sleep deprivation.

The symptoms include:

  • Brain fog, the inability to process information and function
  • Irritability and irrationality
  • Worry and obsessive behaviours
  • Lack of focus and poor achievement drive
  • Weepy or heightened emotions
  • Disconnection and withdrawal
  • Lethargy and dulled senses
  • Forgetfulness and poor concentration.

The fact that so many people have poor sleep may be for many reasons and these stem from such a wealth of different factors. In my experience as someone working to help my clients, I find that I've noticed a real difference in the results we get since I've been talking through issues related to sleep.

Some of the issues relating to sleep come from the sleep "shoulds". We are used to hearing people talk about counting 'sheep' to get off to sleep but how many people are noticing their "shoulds" as opposed to sheep!?

The 'shoulds' around sleep are many and varied. Here are some classic examples and sleep fables: -

You should sleep for eight hours a night.

You should (or shouldn't) nap during the day.

One hour of sleep before midnight is worth two after.

One long sleep is better for you than 'broken' sleep.

Sleeping too long is bad for you.

Sleep is what you do when you are old, the young can stay up forever.

Sleep-time is a waste of life-time

Sleep is overrated!

What is known is there is evidence that our sleep patterns have changed a great deal during times past.

In earlier times it was quite normal to have two sleeps and it only changed when gas lighting was becoming more common. Until then the natural light of the day had more of an impact on sleep cycles. Even Charles Dickens refers to this in Barnaby Rudge when he talks about his character waking from his first sleep.

It was considered quite normal to sleep for about four hours, wake for one to two hours and then sleep again. So, if you or your contacts wake in the night it might be because they are following a deeply entrenched pattern. What can assist is evaluating how to accommodate that practically. I myself find that on some days I wake in the night and happily go back to sleep and other times really enjoy getting things done knowing that I can go back to sleep and get up later. It works for me so may work for others too.

A client if mine was stressing that she was not getting in a sleep and so we talked about it and what else she might do. She was putting herself under huge pressure to sleep during regular hours and so we talked about tailoring her sleep patterns to how she naturally worked. She decided to give it a go over 3 weeks when things were quieter at work.  She tended to wake between two and 4 o'clock and would then get up and do all the things that she fancied doing that contributed to her life (rather than somebody else's) for maybe one to two hours before returning to bed to sleep again.  She regularly got up about 9 o'clock instead 7am.  The end result was quite staggering because after 3 weeks she had accomplished many of the things that she been putting off for years.  She also realised what was going wrong at work and changed her work pattern. She made a decision to keep that sleep pattern up for as long as it suited her.

Another contentious issue is about having short sleeps in the day. Some people swear by them, some refuse to do them and others fall asleep anyway!

Many people avoid daytime sleeping and numerous sleep consultants have varying views. I'll share my view (from years of experience) and you can decide for yourself.

There is a real benefit if a quick nap as opposed to going to bed for a while. Some (incising me) call them power naps. Essentially, they are times when your energy is fading, and your low energy prevents you from being your normal active and upbeat self. If you are the type of person who can drop off for a few minutes, it can be a real pick me up. Many people say they can't because they feel worse afterwards. My thought in this is that their body is rejoicing in having the chance to recharge its batteries and is gleeful that you've " sleep" and it can get on with your deeper healing. Therefore, if you only have a short nap it's not ready to relaunch into wide awake mode...however (and here's my take on it), once you've napped enough and slept for many bouts of good quality sleep then the drowsiness stops.  Basically, the fogged condition is allocated by doing it more often as it’s another way of saying "nooo, I've not had enough sleep yet, please do more so I can top up"

I suggested a friend try napping and she quite rightly couldn't face it as she felt awful if she slept in the afternoon. Strangely she was asked to go into work for three hours work two weeks. She realised that being at work all day plus covering someone's holiday night hours was going to be too much, so she gave the napping a go. What she found was that initially she felt awful and was knew it was better to be staying awake until one am, but long term that wasn't sustainable to be up at 5.30 for her home duties before going into work and not get to bed until after 1am. So, the Saturday afternoon she deliberately slept for a while when she felt drowsy (key...follow your body rhythms). Sunday, she did the same and carried on all the second week. She put it down to excessive tiredness, but it taught her that if she did it enough her body thanked her. She's now a firm advocate of daytime naps if necessary. Each to their own and it's important each one of us do what's right for us. However, she'd have assumed that daytime power naps (10-15 minutes or so) we're not for her. Her body had been telling her that she had a natural pattern that she had fought. Now she's almost evangelical about suggesting people experiment and agrees that sometimes we can't wake because we haven't had enough sleep!

On another positive note, learning to cat nap or power nap is really helpful if you are travelling and are travelling between times zones. One thing about jet lag is that it's exacerbated by sleep loss. Literally resettling your watch to time, it us at your destination is really helpful before you set off. Make sure you know current location times to ensure you catch your flight etc however, getting your brain and body used to the end destination time will help tremendously. I travel abroad a great deal and I reset my internal "body clock" well before my flight and find it really helps. Adding power naps to that in airports or on planes means you don't get so tired travelling. Always keep your belongings within firm touch of yourself and once safe work out if you can nap.

Different people naturally need different amounts of sleep and that's only to be expected as the amount of energy we expend changes too. Some people get exhausted working on computers or doing paperwork, while others thrive on that but get very tired because they are on their feet all day.

Children are the same too. I find it amusing sometimes when I listen to parents berate the fact that their teenager won't get if bed in the mornings. What they may have forgotten us how much energy it takes to grow and develop from being a child towards adulthood. And yes, some children stay up until the weekend small hours and then sleep until lunchtime but also it takes stacks of energy to grow, develop and adjust to all their life, emotions and body too.

Here is a general sleep time guide for different ages. As always, it's a rough guide and each child needs what they need. Remember that some will be night owls and some morning larks so parents may need to allow for that too if practical.