Information and Resources to Prevent and Manage Stress

Why your beauty sleep is so important and what to do when you don’t sleep well.

What is happening when you sleep? Why do you feel so rotten if you miss out on your beauty sleep?

A good question!  Sleep is a natural process - or meant to be! Every twenty four hours the body is designed to enter a period of restful unresponsiveness.

Good sleep is restful but it is so much more than that. Unlike in Victorian times, when it was thought that during sleep everything switched off, we now know that it is highly restorative. When we are asleep the body undergoes many important processes essential for physical and mental health.  Think of it as nightly maintenance.

But these days sleep doesn’t always come so naturally, does it?

Ask your friends or work acquaintances about sleep and you’ll soon come across at least one or two who complain of problems. Instead of sleep being something we do easily and naturally, it becomes a struggle.

It’s no surprise to find then that we now sleep an average of 90 minutes per day less than we did in the 1920’s and that one in ten people suffer from insomnia.

There is, of course, a world of difference between the odd bad night and true insomnia. Chronic lack of good quality sleep affects your whole life, not just for a day or two but week in, week out. Your health, work performance and relationships all suffer.

So why is sleep such a problem for some people?

Firstly, modern lifestyles have eroded the time and attention we give to sleep and rest.  Technology and social media mean it is much harder to withdraw from the world. Facebook, Twitter, email and the endless possibilities of the internet mean that, if we wish, we can stay switched on 24/7.

To first feel sleepy and then fall asleep naturally, the body and mind need to unwind. The light from laptops, phones and tablets has been found to interfere with sleep by inhibiting the production of melatonin, the body’s sleep hormone. Moreover, checking email late at night or endless browsing of the net keeps the brain alert so sleep cannot come.

Secondly, we are naturally programmed to feel sleepy at certain times of day, particularly in the evenings.  You have perhaps heard of Circadian Rhythms, the cycle of activities, including sleep, that happen at particular times during a 24 hour period.  This cycle relies on natural daylight to keep it in synch. That’s why jet lag messes with your normal patterns and why shift workers are prone to sleep (and other health) problems.

Take your typical teenager for example.  Young adults need more sleep than older people, around 9 hours a night. Yet studies show that the average for 13-18 year olds is just 7 hours.  What are they doing instead? Ask any parents of said teenagers and the answer will probably be sitting in their bedrooms on their computer or X box playing games or chatting to mates. Do this repeatedly late into the night, add in lack of exercise and midnight fridge raids and you can see how the body gets completely confused and starts to turn night into day. Result: one very grumpy and under-performing teenager at school/college. (That’s why there’s a new research study into sleep deprivation in young adults).

Nipping sleep problems in the bud is particularly important for young people as studies also show that once established, difficulties tend to get worse as they grow older.

The answer for teenagers and us all:  don’t turn night into day! 

Keep your body clock regulated with lots of natural daylight and exercise and have regular bedtimes. Avoid excessively long lie-ins at weekends. Granted, this will be hard to achieve with teenagers (and the body clocks of adolescents do seem to be set to favour later waking) but establishing boundaries around sleep is just as important as in other areas.

The third reason for sleeping problems that I want to mention here really is an unfortunate Catch 22: if you have difficulty sleeping, that experience in itself erodes your ability to sleep well.

How does this happen? Well, if you actually want to sleep but can’t and this happens over several nights, you start to unlearn all your previous positive conditioning around sleep. So instead of getting into bed and anticipating a restful night, you become anxious, worrying that you’ll have another bad night.

Remember what I said earlier that the body and mind needs to unwind so you can feel sleepy? Well worrying about sleep does the complete opposite and keeps you alert and awake. This is where you need to use a simple relaxation exercise to calm your racing mind.

Sleep patterns become established really quickly. While it may take months and years for the ill-effects of diet or lack of exercise to show themselves, a pattern of poor sleep can set in over just a few weeks. This is why it is really important to take sleep seriously and do everything you can to prevent a run of bad nights turning into insomnia. Even parents of newborns, who naturally will have many weeks and months of sleep deprivation, can take steps to protect themselves.

Sleep is one of the pillars of good health along with diet and exercise.

Yet many people take it for granted, until they notice how rotten they feel when they don’t get enough. If you start to have a problem, don’t ignore it or think you just have to accept it.  There really are many simple strategies and tools you can learn to sleep well again! Just email me to find out how.

I've been away a while...

I'm feeling a bit sensitive about my blog on this site.  It hasn't been very frequent over the last 12 months.

This isn't to say I've been taking it easy. In fact I am just as full of ideas and enthusiasm for my work as I ever was.  But you can only spend your time once as my mum would say - and over the past year I've been focussing my energies on a new project.  Together with Sarah,  my good friend and colleague, I've launched Sprout - a fresh approach to personal development. From avoiding burn-out to changing career, from divorce to retirement - Sprout is all about helping you to navigate these life situations, providing inspiration, practical strategies and time out to refresh.

If you want to get a flavour of what we do at Sprout then you can follow us on Twitter @sprout.today and check out our blog

Which brings me back to my blog here.  On Monday , my first day back at work after the Christmas break, I  facilitated two sessions for the Midland Academies Trust, a consortium of colleges and schools. I'd been asked to provide practical advice on managing stress for teachers and support staff - in 45 minutes.

Now presentations are not my preferred style of working. I like to get my sleeves rolled up and help people really get to grips with  strategies that are going to make a real difference to their lives...

But I was determined to ensure that everyone received something of real value and planned the session accordingly.  I reminded people of how stress is very much an individual thing; different people will have different reactions to potentially stressful events. We then looked at how to manage, challenge  and change perceptions so that you can feel more in control when a stressful situation arises. Finally I guided the group ( all 60 of them!) through a mindfulness exercise.

I was really chuffed at the end of the session to see a queue of people round the room waiting to sign up for my free Relax and Refresh MP3 that I was giving away as part of the session.  I've decided I like presentations after all!

How to cope with work stress

As a Trustee of the International Stress Management Association UK, I'm often asked to contribute to media debates on stress.

Recently I took part in a live chat for The Guardian newspaper on how to manage work stress.

There were a number of contributors and between us we came up with some useful tips. You can read them all here:

http://careers.theguardian.com/how-prevent-cope-stress-work-interviews-live-chat

If you have a  question about managing stress do ask! It would be great to hear from you.

Sleep - the Cinderella of good health

Insomnia affects about 10% of the adult population. If you've ever suffered it, you will know how it can wreck your whole life.

Insomnia reduces the quality of your life. It makes you more prone to accidents, impairs intellectual functioning and is a risk factor for depression. Because it causes low mood and irritablity, it also affects both work and home relationships. 

I often refer to insomnia as the Cinderella of good health. Sleep, along with diet and exercise, is an central pillar of wellbeing. Yet most people know far more about healthy food and the benefits of exercise than they do sleep.

Yet with a structured approach most people quickly learn how to sleep well again. 

If you'd like to find out more about how I can help you to enjoy good sleep again, please get in touch. It would be great to hear from you. 

I have a great new place to work!

You know how the physical environment can have such an impact on how you feel? Sometimes it's easy to overlook the importance of things such as lighting ( natural or harsh overhead lights?) temperature, noise and the view ( or absence of), not to mention comfortable seating.

 I am delighted that I have found a new base for my private practice! Situated in the small village of Whaley Bridge in the heart of the Peak District, my room is secluded and peaceful with only the sound of the river-  a great asset when it comes to learning how to relax and sleep well!

The environment is certainly bringing out the best in me and therefore enables me to support my clients in the best possible way. 

Riverside Wellbeing is easily accessible by road, train and bus. Just click on the Contacts tab to get the address and make a no-obligation appointment.

If you live too far away or would prefer a phone appointment, then we can talk by phone or Skype.

Sprout Retreats - for sustainable personal development- has arrived!

Just an update to say that Sprout is now up and running, the result of a fruitful collaboration with Sarah Foster, also a personal development specialist.

We launch with our mini-retreat in February 2014.   Our retreat venue is the luxurious Hoar Cross Hall Spa Resort in Staffordshire. Take a look at the website and find out why we think our personal development programmes are special.

You can also download your free chapter of our new book - The Handbook of Hope.

www.sprout.today

We look forward to guiding you to step into a fufilling future!

And don't forget, if a Sprout Retreat is not for you just now, I'd be delighted to work with you on an individual basis by phone or Skype.

Coming soon: Sprout Retreats - for when Life gets out of whack.

For many years now I've been helping people deal with stress. There are different theories and models for human stress and, in the workplace, in particular, there is a focus on categorising the causes and then dealing with each cause separately. The Health and Safety Executive, for example, a popular workplace model, lists 6 aspects of the workplace known to be possible risk factors for stress. This approach has many proven advantages; it helps busy managers to hold a structured conversation and arrive at concrete actions to support ther stressed colleague.

My experience tells me, however, that there are times when stress cannot be so easily categorised and cauterised. Sometimes people get stressed because something much bigger is out of whack- their lives themselves. When you live your life in a way that is not right for you, your whole system comes under stress. When you are in an unhappy relationship or in a job that saps your spirit or you just feel that life has become mundane, it takes a huge amount of energy just to keep going. If you endure for too long, then temporary discomfort becomes chronic stress.

This type of stress is something that the workplace should not be expected to deal with. A good employer will do their best but they will not be able to tackle all the underlying causes. It is the individuals' responsibility to do that.

Sometimes the state of chronic stress becomes comfortably familiar. Sadly, sometimes it is only when a person is faced with a major event, such as a illness, that s/he is shaken out of their waking dream that everything is OK.

Over the past year, I've been reflecting on the best way to direct my work so that my clients can get their lives back into alignment before a crash. Or, if they have crashed, so they can take a holistic approach and set themselves properly back on track. My business partner and I have spent many hours discussing our personal and professional experiences of stress, career burnout, the impact of serious illness , the aftermath of failed marriages and all the other stuff that life throws at us (and, thankfully, shared a lot of laughter in telling our own stories!)

This led to the birth of Sprout Retreats, a programme of personal development designed for real and sustainable change. The Retreats will be taking place in various UK venues and abroad, with a website launching soon.(www.personaldevelopmentretreats.co.uk) In the meantime, I will continue my private practice locally and to offer my Sleep Well programmes by phone and email. Exciting times lie ahead and I'll be sharing with you the ups and downs of my personal journey in future blogs. 

How poor sleep leads to weight gain in teenagers and adults

Poor sleep and weight gain in teenagers and adults.

It’s common to focus on the emotional impact of poor sleep - the feeling of fatigue, irritability or tearfulness. Yet a lack of sleep is associated with a number of health issues, including weight gain.  This week, for example, new research from Paediatrics₁ reported that, in 14-18 year olds, shorter sleep was associated with increase in BMI, even when other factors such as exercise and time spent playing video games were taken into account.  Remarkably, the study concluded that

 

increasing daily sleep to 10 hours per day
could help to prevent adolescent obesity.

 

The mechanisms that link sleep and weight gain are still not fully understood. We know that the release of hormones controlling physiological processes – the systems that run out bodies- are influenced by Circadian rhythms, the natural cycle of day and night.  It may be that disruption occurs when young people stay up into the night and are therefore exposed to (artificial) light during the natural dark period. The body thinks it’s still day time and alters functioning accordingly.

It isn’t just adolescents either that have to worry. Research also suggests that for everyone disruptions in sleep patterns, often linked to our 24-hour lifestyle, are associated with increased body fat and altered metabolism.  When you don’t sleep, the levels of two hormones (Leptin and Ghrelin) are disrupted. These control our feelings of hunger and the amount of calories we store or burn.  When we are awake, they make us feel hungry and store the calories we consume as fat.

There are other possible reasons too for why we might pile on the calories when we don’t sleep well.

The more hours we are awake, the more there are to opportunities to eat! When we are tired, we may eat to comfort ourselves or we confuse tiredness with hunger.  Then, after a bad night’s sleep, we don’t have the energy or the will power to exercise. Stress, too, causes the body to store fat.

So as you can see, getting a good night’s sleep is hugely important in so many ways. You will not only feel better in yourself but also protect your physical health.  

If you would like a free consultation to discuss your sleep difficulties, please email me.

For information about my phone based Sleep Well coaching programme please click here.

 

  1. Paediatrics:  Sleep Duration and Adolescent Obesity April 2013

...and some more Sleep Well tips

 In my last blog I gave you 13 tips for better sleep. How are you getting on with those? Now take a look at the next ones here.

Remember, don't try to introduce changes all at once. Target one or two areas and make changes slowly. Expect it to take several days- or even a couple of weeks-before you see results.  After all, you may have had a poor sleep habit for some years so it's unrealistic to put it right in just a few days. Keep persevering and notice what you do well.

  1. Manage your phone, don’t let it manage you. Demarcate the end of your working day: turn all alerts off and leave it alone.
  2. Sleep is triggered by a drop in body temperature. Try a warm bath/shower before bed and keep your bedroom cool.
  3. Learn a simple relaxation technique and practice before sleep or as you lie in bed. See my earlier blog.
  4. Keep a notepad & pen by the bed. If you wake up thinking “I must remember that”, write it down. Then let it go.
  5. Don’t have an alcoholic night-cap. Alcohol temporarily relaxes you but interferes with sleep cycles making it more likely that you will wake up in the night.
  6. If you are awake for more than 20 minutes at night, get up, make a non-caffeinated drink and read or rest. Go back to bed when you feel sleepy.
  7. Don’t stay in bed if you are lying awake worrying. It only creates a negative association. Get up and go back to bed when calmer/sleepier.
  8.  If you are in bed awake, stay relaxed by reminding yourself that you can still benefit from resting in bed even if you don’t sleep.  
  9. If something’s troubling you, don’t ignore it as it will come to your mind as you lie in bed. Set some time aside during the day and talk or write it out.
  10. How many hours have you worked this week? Review & check for life balance. Regular relaxation helps to promote good sleep.

Sleep Well tips

If you've done any research on what brings good sleep, you will no-doubt have come across the term good sleep hygiene. Not a term I particularly like myself but it refers to the essentials for good sleep. Things such as establishing a regular bedtime and not eating late at night. It also covers aspects such as the ideal temperature for your bedroom and other ways to ensure that your bedroom is a comfortable and relaxing place.

I am often asked for my top tips for good sleep so I thought I'd list them here.

  1. Ditch the Sunday morning lie-in! Sleeping in after a late night doesn’t recover lost hours of sleep. It only makes it harder to get up for work. Just go to bed earlier that night.
  2. Get moving! Regular cardiovascular exercise promotes good sleep. Research shows minimum of 20 mins between 4 & 7 pm is best. Diary it now!
  3. Establish a habit: set a regular bedtime and stick to it.
  4. If you’re in the habit of going to bed very late, gradually start moving your bedtime forward by 15 mins earlier a day.
  5. Use the hour before bedtime to wind down. Ban all PC, tablet and phones! No checking emails or Facebook or strong overhead lights. Instead read, take a bath, listen to music and relax. 
  6. Get some daylight every day. Even natural light on cloudy days is beneficial as it helps to regulate your body clock.
  7. Avoid sugary and fatty snacks around bedtime. Milk, wholemeal toast, bananas can help you to feel sleepy.
  8. Avoid a heavy meal at least 2 hours before bedtime but don’t go to bed hungry. A light snack is Ok.
  9. No caffeinated drinks in the evening.  Coffee, tea and some soft drinks contain caffeine.  If you are particularly sensitive, avoid all caffeine after noon.
  10. Ensure your bedroom is dark enough and not too hot.  Check pillows are right for you. Try an eye mask or earplugs.
  11. Make your bedroom an oasis of calm: don’t use it for TV or work.
  12.  Set a clear end to your working day. Do this at the end of the working day or in the early evening - then put it down. Write a to-do list  and turn all phone alerts off.  
  13. Buy an old fashioned alarm clock and  leave your phone at night in another room.
  14. Learn a simple relaxation exercise and use it if you wake up in the night.

For more Sleep Well tips see here

If you feel that poor sleep is starting to affect your work and home life, then consider getting professional help. Sleeping pills only work in the short term. Email me to find out how I can help. I'd love to hear from you!