When it comes to functioning well, sleep is of massive importance; both your work and home life will benefit from good quality shut-eye. With that in mind, and as part of Genie’s wellness programme, we invited insomnia specialist Kathryn Pinkham of The Insomnia Clinic to deliver a workshop.
Kathryn advised us on how to improve the quality of our sleep and, in turn, reduce problems associated with a poor night’s rest. She talked us through her sleep improvement plan and, while we won’t give away all her secrets, we can name a few of the myths she debunked:
1. “You need eight hours sleep a night”
There is no hard and fast rule when it comes to the amount people should have. It’s possible to sleep for a long time and not feel rested or sleep for a little while and feel fine. The best approach is to focus on quality not quantity: Try to go to bed when you’re tired and wake up when you’re not in a deep sleep - moving your alarm clock time 15 minutes forwards or backwards can help with this.
2. “Naps are always good for you”
The optimum time for a nap is 20 minutes - anything between 40 minutes and an hour can make you feel worse because you’ll interrupt your sleep cycle. If you want a longer nap, aim for more than an hour and a half (though this might impact your ability to doze off that evening). Being able to nap is a skill not everyone possesses and if you struggle to do so, it’s best not to try.
3. “If you can’t sleep, at least rest in bed”
Resting and sleeping are different things with different benefits. If you’re just “resting” you’re unlikely to feel many positive effects. You’re probably not relaxed, in fact you’re probably stressed about the fact you're still awake. Jump out of bed, do something else, and hop back in when you’re tired. Associating your bed with being asleep and being ready to sleep is very important.
4. “Exercise helps you sleep”
It seems logical to assume tiring your body out will help you feel tired and, in turn, fall asleep. This isn’t always the case. Going to the gym is good for lots of reasons, but better sleep is one aspect of your health you shouldn’t hope to improve through exercise.
5. “Have a bedtime routine”
Putting lavender on your pillow, drinking camomile tea, or having a fan on will not directly help you sleep. To a certain extent these things can act as self-fulfilling prophecies and you might genuinely sleep better with them in place, but more often than not they’re a hindrance rather than a help. When you’re not sleeping well, that banana you always have before bed is unlikely to make a difference. Try to rely on as few external influences as possible.
Kathryn recommended following good sleep hygiene practices, such as limiting mobile phone use and caffeine and alcohol intake, but not letting routines become too rigid. The best thing you can do to improve your sleep is try to regulate it: if you’re struggling, think back to a time when you slept well and see what’s changed. Not only could this result in a better night’s sleep but it could also make for a better day.