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February 20, 2015

Sweet Dreams

Caroline Smith

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I used to be a terrible sleeper. And, if I'm not careful, I could become one again.

When I was a student, I had poor sleeping habits. If I didn't have a lecture, I would stay in bed for as long as possible during the day. Even though I felt guilty, I just couldn't help myself!

However, this led to a vicious cycle. I struggled to go to sleep at night, because I wasn't tired enough before bed, which meant I’d stay up 'til the early hours watching TV or reading. And then, the next day, of course, I found it difficult to get up, or I'd repeatedly snooze though the alarm. And so it went on.

My sleep patterns improved when I started full-time work, and I had to be in the office for 8:30 a.m. But, I still often found it difficult to drift off at night, and I remember being the biggest grump in the mornings! And, at the weekends, I'd fall back into my bad habit of staying up late and laying in. I'd make the excuse that I was catching up on my sleep after a busy work week but, the truth is, I never really felt fully refreshed.

It's only in recent years that I finally felt I'd found the right balance. In my last job, I worked opposite a gym and started going to exercise classes every lunchtime. Suddenly, I started sleeping "like a log" at night. I still found getting up a bit of a struggle – I put this down to not being a morning person – but being able to fall asleep as soon as my head hit the pillow was a novelty!

Now, I think I've cracked it! As I work mostly from home, I go to the gym every morning. And not only do I fall asleep quickly every night, but I actually wake up naturally before my alarm, and I rise early at weekends. People say to me, "Oh, I couldn't go to the gym that early!" and I used to say the same. But if you want to get a good night's sleep, it's definitely worth it – for me, anyway. Not only am I better rested, but I wake up refreshed and have loads more energy. However, I know that, if I didn't stick to my routine, I'd soon fall back to how I was.

The article I'm talking about today is all about improving the quality of your sleep. Rather than a luxury, or a "nice to have," we should all treat sleep as a priority. If you don't get enough, you may experience a number of health problems. For example, you can be more vulnerable to catching a cold, or have trouble maintaining a healthy weight, because a lack of sleep impairs your body's ability to regulate the hormones associated with appetite.

Even worse, research has shown that people who sleep fewer than four hours, or more than eight hours, a day are more likely to suffer from high blood pressure, depression, diabetes, dementia, and heart disease.

Your sleeping habits can also have an impact on your performance at work. Not getting enough sleep can affect your memory, learning, creativity, productivity, and emotional stability. You may also feel more irritable, lack concentration, or have problems focusing on your daily tasks.

I noted with interest that "exercise regularly" is the first tip in the article. Exercise works because you release "feel-good" hormones – endorphins – which help reduce stress, elevate your mood, and relieve anxiety and depression. Just exercising for 20 to 30 minutes a day is apparently enough.

Another tip (which I can vouch for!) is to establish a regular sleeping pattern, by going to bed and waking up at the same time every day. It even mentions not to break your routine at the weekends, when it may be more tempting to stay up late and sleep in the next morning.

There are some great ideas in the article, so why not take a look? And if you have any other suggestions on how to improve the quality of your sleep, join in the discussion below!

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2 comments on “Sweet Dreams”

  1. I have tried taking Melatonin but I think your advise on doing exercise is good. I used to exercise when the gym was near my workplace. I will just find time to get that regular exercise into my schedule.

    1. Hi Trix - if I don't exercise, I really notice the difference. But just getting out of the office into the fresh air and taking a walk can help.

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