Sleep articles

Sleep is as important to our health as eating, drinking and breathing. It allows our bodies to repair themselves and our brains to consolidate our memories and process information.

A good night’s sleep should not be underestimated at any time but when you are trying to delicately balance work, family, hobbies and study, it is even more important. Sleep is just as important a part of your success and health as other parts of your day like eating, exercising, studying and working. Just as you prepare and plan your study time or work time to optimise the benefits, have you thought that you might need to invest a little more in your sleep? If you do not sleep well or if you have poor quality sleep, there may be something fundamental that needs attention. If it’s ongoing it may well impact on other parts of your life in a detrimental way and this needs to be looked at. Poor sleep has been linked to wider physical and mental health implications such as diabetes, depression, obesity, high blood pressure amongst others. Not only these but our moods can deteriorate, we can get clumsier, but critically for any of us studying and working, our concentration and memory retention is lowered. A lot of our hard work may therefore be being sabotaged by our sleep cycles. Anyone who has listened to the Freakonomics podcasts may have heard two episodes of the economics of sleep. Many of those with poorer sleep patterns had lower economic and educational outcomes. These are all very tangible effects that should not be ignored. If you feel you are not sleeping properly, you can certainly try to address environmental and lifestyle factors in the first instance. It could be that you are unfortunately doing this to yourself but little changes may well improve your sleep. One of the main things to note is that mental stimulation and sleep are just not compatible. 1.       Don’t work or study in your bedroom. It’s really important to separate your leisure and relaxation space from your workspace. If you are working through course notes or a work project propped up on your pillows, you’re probably not working very productively but crucially you are blurring the lines for your mind between the two activities. You may not be able to switch off and have trouble getting to sleep or poor sleep. 2.       Keep your sleep space organised Your mind will get frazzled in a cluttered, hectic physical space. Try to do a little neaten up to make it a pleasant sanctuary at night time: hang up clothes, neaten up the piles of papers and books, have as soft lighting as possible, make your bed in the morning. That way when you walk in at bedtime, it is restful which will relax your mind. 3.       No screens! Any kind of screen in the bedroom is a no-no. The blue light in devices like television screens, tablets, smartphones and energy saving light bulbs are proven to disrupt our day-night rhythm. Effectively you are telling your body and mind that it’s daytime, activity time. To avoid temptation to tweet that witty musing at midnight, just leave all of these devices in another room. Read a book, flick through a magazine or newspaper if you need to wind down your brain after the day. And what’s more, you’ll probably really enjoy the mental retreat. 4.       Have a bedtime It’s really important to establish a rhythm. Our bodies and minds love routine. The hours between 2am and 6am are when your body is best at healing and regenerating after the rigours of the day so this is when you should really try to be asleep. Going to bed at a set time each night is a really positive way to encourage good sleep. There is an adage that an hour of sleep before midnight is worth two after, so it’s well worth trying to get to bed and lights out by 12. 5.       Have a good pre-bed routine Don’t do too much just before bed. Again, if you’re busy right before bedtime, you won’t have a lot of time to wind down before you need to be asleep, plus you might find your heart and mind racing. You might think physical exercise is a good way to get tired, but that 10km run at 10pm isn’t such a good idea. Pull it back to 8pm and your body will have time to cool and slow down. Basically before you go to bed you should try to do calm, leisurely activities: reading, TV in another room, a stroll around the block, a phone call with a friend…anything that tells your mind it’s now time to switch off. 6.       Limit fluids before bed It’s fairly obvious that what goes in must come out! Don’t drink too much just before bedtime. Avoid in particular caffeine and alcohol as they are too stimulating. 7.       Temperature and comfort The temperature and ambience of your bedroom is important: you will wake up if you are too hot or too cold, if the room is stuffy, your covers are too hot…simple changes like more comfortable pyjamas, opening the window a little to allow fresh air, a better quality duvet or even a new mattress might all be excellent investments. Good sleep will make you feel fresher, more energetic and motivated, as well as improve your mental concentration and physical health. With all these factors in place, you may be setting yourself up to perform better at work and study tasks which can lead to better professional outcomes too. As a former insomniac myself, I can attest that making the changes is well worth it. Feeling like the walking dead at work and at social functions is really not very nice. Try the small changes first and see how much better you’ll feel (and hopefully how much better you’ll do too!) Good luck and sleep tight! (If you need information about sleep clinics around Ireland, see your GP or visit    Amy Dawson Amy is a member of the Specialist Qualifications team at Chartered Accountants Ireland. With over ten years experience in arts administration, she has also worked in education administration providing support for distance learners. From a postgraduate diploma to an online Masters to swimming, oil painting and theatre production, she's always looking for the next learning indulgence or to help you find yours.

Jan 09, 2020

Everyone knows sleep is important for wellbeing and quality of life. But there's evidence to suggest many people are becoming increasingly sleep deprived. Insomnia is a common problem in Ireland. It affects around 1 in 5 people on a regular basis, and is particularly common in those who are older. In an international survey carried out by Aviva health insurance in 2017, 35% of Irish adults said they do not believe they are getting the right amount of sleep. The same survey ranked Ireland as the second most sleep-deprived country after the UK. Benefits of power naps One solution to reduce your sleep woes could be to take a power nap during the daytime. Scientists have shown that a power nap can be as refreshing as a good night's sleep. It could also improve your creativity, reduce your stress level, make you more alert, improve your memory and boost your performance and productivity at work. One study, which was presented at a European Society of Cardiology annual conference in London, also suggests napping may reduce your blood pressure. But not everyone's a fan of power napping, and many complain it can make you feel groggy afterwards - which is hardly the result you may be going for. That groggy feeling is known in the sleep world as sleep inertia. It's the feeling of not being fully awake - indeed, it's thought to happen because part of your brain is still asleep. A typical period of sleep inertia can last up to 30 minutes, though you may be affected for up to 4 hours. People who experience it - either when they are woken by their alarm clock first thing in the morning or after taking a nap - can have trouble doing even the simplest of things while they're affected. And to overcome it, they may rely on a strong cup of coffee (or 2) to get them going. Sleep inertia and the sleep cycle Sleep inertia is thought to be the result of being woken up while you're in part of the sleep cycle called REM (rapid eye movement) sleep. The entire sleep cycle lasts about 90 minutes, during which there are 5 stages. REM sleep is the last of these 5 stages; the first 4 stages make up NREM (non-rapid eye movement) sleep. The REM stage is when you dream. Your brainwaves also speed up, your muscles relax, your breathing becomes more rapid and shallow and your heart rate increases. But if you're suddenly woken during the REM stage, your body may be producing high levels of a hormone called melatonin, which makes you feel sleepy. Some scientists believe the way to combat sleep inertia when it comes to napping is to either wake after 90 minutes (that is, after an entire sleep cycle) or after 15 - 20 minutes.; If you have the time, a 90-minute nap is considered ideal if you want to remember something you've just learned, since research suggests longer naps may help boost memory. But if you simply want to feel less tired, try not to nap for longer than 20 minutes. That's because, apart from newborn babies who spend half their total sleep time in REM sleep, most of us spend a quarter of our sleep time in REM sleep. REM is the final stage of sleep, so the further along the sleep cycle you are when you wake, the harder it may be to feel alert. How to nap effectively If you're new to power naps, you may not find it easy to fall asleep quickly when it's not your regular bedtime. So here are a few tips to send you on your way: Schedule your nap If you nap at the same time every day, it could help train your body to fall asleep quickly and wake at the right time. The time of day for your nap could be important too. It's common to experience an energy dip after lunch, so aim to take your power nap in the middle of the day, between 1 - 3pm. If you nap any later, you may find it affects your ability to fall asleep at night. Switch off your phone It goes without saying that a constantly ringing phone won't help you nod off. If you don't want to be disturbed, put your phone on silent. Also place your phone out of reach, so you'll be less tempted to check your texts or emails when you should be relaxing. Block out the light The darker your environment, the more likely you'll fall asleep faster. If you can't find a dark enough room or corner, try wearing a sleep mask.  Mask distracting noises If you're taking a nap at work the normal sounds of office life may keep you awake. Turning on a fan can mask those noises. Or you could download a white noise app on your phone, as many people find they help them fall asleep in noisy environments. Keep warm Your body temperature naturally falls when you sleep, so make sure you have a blanket to keep you warm. Fit it around your schedule If you don't have time for a 20-minute nap, studies suggest shorter naps - even 5-minute ones - can also be effective. Article reproduced with the kind permission of CABA, the organisation providing lifelong support to ICAEW members, ACA students and their close family around the world.

Jan 08, 2020

Sleep is not a luxury or something we can “catch up on”, it is a physical and mental necessity. The benefits of sleep impacts our daily lives in almost every area. According to research completed by the Division of Sleep Medicine at Harvard Medical School, our bodies manage and require sleep in the same way that it regulates the need for eating, drinking and breathing. Extensive studies have shown that sleep plays a vital role in promoting physical health, longevity and emotional wellbeing. Here are our top 10 tips to help you sleep better: 1. Routine Your body likes routine. Choose a time when you normally feel tired and set a regular bedtime. Try not to break this routine on weekends when it may be tempting to stay up late. If you want to change your bedtime, help your body adjust by making the change in small daily increments, such as 15 minutes earlier or later each day. Wake up at the same time every day. If you’re getting enough sleep, you should wake up naturally without an alarm. If you need an alarm clock to wake up on time, you may need to set an earlier bedtime. As with your bedtime, try to maintain your regular wake–time even on weekends. Be smart about napping. While taking a nap can be a great way to recharge, especially for older adults, it can make insomnia worse. If insomnia is a problem for you, consider eliminating napping. If you must nap, do it in the early afternoon, and limit it to 30 minutes. Fight after–dinner drowsiness. If you find yourself getting sleepy way before your bedtime, get off the couch and do something mildly stimulating to avoid falling asleep, such as washing the dishes, calling a friend, or getting clothes ready for the next day. If you give in to the drowsiness, you may wake up later in the night and have trouble getting back to sleep. 2. Bedroom Your bedroom should be reserved for rest, sleep, and love. Make sure you have the right mattress for you. It is much easier to sleep and remain asleep when the room is dark. Try fitting black out blinds or curtains to avoid the early sun waking you up prematurely. Keep your bedroom at the correct temperature. Most people sleep best in a slightly cool room (around 65°F or 18°C) with adequate ventilation. If it is too hot or too cold it can interfere with quality sleep. 3. Noise and stimulation It is best to avoid having televisions or computers in the bedroom – even dim standby lights can confuse your body clock. If you are used to falling asleep to the TV and miss the noise try soft music or a fan. If you need to eliminate noise you can’t avoid (neighbours, dogs, traffic) try ear plugs. 4. Relaxation Taking a hot shower or bath before bed helps bring on sleep as it can relax tense muscles. Try reading a light entertaining book or magazine. But avoid intense TV or reading 2 hours prior to going to bed it will stimulate your senses and make sleep difficult. Turn off your laptop / computer 2 hours prior to going to bed to allow your mind to relax.  If you make a consistent effort to relax and unwind before bed, you will sleep easier and more deeply. A peaceful bedtime routine sends a powerful signal to your brain that it is time to wind down and let go of stress. Try relaxation techniques such as deep breathing, visualisation or meditation. 5. Manage anxiety and stress When your mind continues to deal with worries of the day or the workload of tomorrow it can be very difficult to get to sleep and stay asleep. Keep a pen and paper by your bed and write down a list of problems or tasks that are on your mind. This effectively files everything away and “clears your desk” allowing you to relax, knowing you are prepared for the next day. If stress is a continuous problem seek additional help. 6. Get some sunlight Sunlight helps regulate your body clock and makes you feel sleepy at night by stimulating your body to produce melatonin (a hormone that regulates your sleep cycle). You need exposure to bright light every day. Morning sunlight exposure can be especially helpful. Be sure to open the curtains every morning to let light in. 7. Diet Maintaining a balanced diet and a healthy weight will have a positive impact on your sleep.Stay away from big meals at night. Try to make dinnertime earlier in the evening, and avoid heavy, rich foods within two hours of bed. Fatty foods take a lot of work for your stomach to digest and may keep you up. Also be cautious when it comes to spicy or acidic foods in the evening, as they can cause stomach trouble and heartburn. Consider the following; Avoid alcohol before bed Many people think that a nightcap before bed will help them sleep. While it may make you fall asleep faster, alcohol reduces your sleep quality, waking you up later in the night. To avoid this effect, so stay away from alcohol in the hours before bed. Cut down on caffeine You might be surprised to know that caffeine can cause sleep problems up to 10 to 12 hours after drinking it! Consider eliminating caffeine after lunch or cutting back your overall intake. Avoid drinking too many liquids in the evening Drinking lots of water, juice, tea, or other fluids may result in frequent bathroom trips throughout the night. Caffeinated drinks, which act as diuretics, only make things worse. A light snack before bed can help promote sleep When you pair tryptophan–containing foods with carbohydrates which release serotonin, it helps calms the brain and allows you to sleep better. For even better sleep, try adding extra calcium to your dinner or night time snack. Experiment with your food habits to determine your optimum evening meals and snacks For a relaxing bedtime snack, try half a turkey or peanut butter sandwich, a small bowl of whole–grain, low–sugar cereal Granola with low–fat milk or yogurt or a banana and a cup of hot chamomile tea. 8. Exercise Regular exercise is good for your overall health and fitness. It also helps to relieve the day’s stresses allowing your body to relax and prepare for a good night’s sleep. Schedule your exercise at least 2 hours before you go to bed. Exercising too late in the day actually stimulates your body, raising its temperature – a cooler body temperature promotes sleep. You can still do relaxing exercise before bed such as gentle yoga. 9. Don’t smoke Yes, smoking is bad for sleep too! Nicotine stimulates the central nervous system therefore smokers take longer to fall asleep, wake more often and frequently experience more sleep disruption. 10. What to do if you wake up The key to getting back to sleep is continuing to prepare your body for sleep, so remain in bed in a relaxed position. Hard as it may be, try not to stress over the fact that you’re awake or your inability to fall asleep again, because that very stress and anxiety encourages your body to stay awake. Make relaxation your goal, not sleep. If you are finding it hard to fall back asleep, try a relaxation technique such as visualization, deep breathing, or meditation, which can be done without even getting out of bed. Remind yourself that although they’re not a replacement for sleep, rest and relaxation still help rejuvenate your body. Do a quiet, non-stimulating activity. If you’ve been awake for more than 15 minutes, try getting out of bed and doing a quiet, non-stimulating activity, such as reading a book. Keep the lights dim so as not to cue your body clock that it’s time to wake up. Also avoid screens of any kind— computers, TV, mobile phones, iPads—as the type of light they emit is stimulating to the brain. A light snack or herbal tea might help relax you, but be careful not to eat so much that your body begins to expect a meal at that time of the day. Article reproduced with the kind permission of CABA, the organisation providing lifelong support to ICAEW members, ACA students and their close family around the world.

Nov 14, 2019