It’s no secret that sleep is important. The foundation of our physical and mental health that can have a huge impact on our performance both in and out of the office. But for many of us, it’s not something we necessarily prioritise or can get a good grip on. So to help you get your sleep sussed, we’ve enlisted the expertise of the fantastic Kathryn Pinkham. A sleep and insomnia specialist who reframes sleep and helps her clients to create sleep habits that are suited to their lifestyle. 

Understanding sleep drive 

One of the biggest controlling factors for sleep? Your sleep drive. “If you imagine when you wake up in the morning, you’re building an appetite for sleep. So the longer you’re out of bed and the later you go to bed, the stronger that appetite is. When you get into bed if your appetite for sleep is nice and high, you should fall asleep quickly, get a better quality of sleep  and wake up when you’ve had enough.”, Kathryn explains. 

When we don’t have a strong enough sleep drive because we haven’t been awake for a long enough period, have quaffed a coffee or napped for too long/too late in the day, we may find it difficult to drift off, have disturbed sleep or rise unnecessarily early. 

A lack of sleep drive can also be partly to blame for the infamous ‘Sunday scaries’. Kathryn notes, “What tends to happen over the weekend is, we don’t set an alarm, we go to bed at different times and we wake up at different times. So on Sunday night, we tend to go to bed early because we’ve perhaps had a big weekend and we want to feel refreshed on Monday morning. We go to bed on time or early. The problem with that is, your sleep drive is probably a little bit weak, your body clock is not quite sure what you’re doing because you’re going to bed too early plus you’ve got the worries of the next day too.” To help with this, Kathryn recommends not going to bed early on a Sunday, even considering going to bed an hour later than you usually would. The more tired you are, the more sleep drive there is and the higher the chance of getting to sleep. 

Quality vs Quantity 

8 hours. 7 hours. 6 hours. There’s so much conflicting advice on the ‘perfect’ time to sleep. The ironic thing? It’s this pressure that can keep so many of us tossing and turning, constantly watching the clock and stressing about how we’re going to feel the next day. 

Kathryn has worked with a huge range of clients, some of which 8 hours simply isn’t feasible, “What we really want to look at is quality not quantity. So if you can get a good deep sleep for 6 hours, that’s much better than getting 8 hours of broken sleep which will leave us feeling stressed”. 

And if you find yourself on the clock watching camp often, keep in mind that your body will seek to regulate itself and can get by with some sleep loss. “Ultimately don’t worry about it, if you don’t sleep well on a Sunday night, you’ll likely sleep really well on the Monday night because you’ll have a higher sleep drive. You will cope. Believe that you can cope with a bit of sleep loss - that is normal.”

Do we all need a sleep routine?

Lavender sprays, blue light glasses and strict bedtimes. Sleep routines are all the rage at the moment, but do we all need them? “If you are a  poor sleeper then the chances are that by having a strict routine, you are actually making things worse. Sleep hygiene tips can increase vigilance around sleep, meaning the harder we 'try' to sleep the worse the cycle gets.”, says Kathryn. 

Often we outsource our sleep issues to products that can help, “There’s a lot of things that can be sold to people that don’t sleep well and it can often be a quick fix. If you’re a poor sleeper it’s very unlikely it’s a vitamin deficiency [or anything else that can be solved by a product]…it’s more likely that you’ve learnt to sleep poorly.” And the key to this is removing the stress around sleep. Adding in all of these supplements and boxes you have to check before you roll into your bed puts a lot of pressure on you to sleep and adds unnecessary steps into your day. Simply tapping into how sleepy you feel, addressing any potential anxieties in your day and creating an environment conducive to sleep is often all you need to sleep well. 

Looking at the bigger picture 

Of course stress, lifestyle and our sleeping habits all play into how awake we feel. But there can be plenty of other illnesses, conditions and factors that can play into your sleep and energy levels. Here are a few of the key issues, and when to seek professional help. 

  • Perimenopause/menopause: 65% of women will experience sleep disturbance in perimenopause and menopause. Kathryn highlights that there are several ways to manage this including HRT and menopause-specific cognitive behavioural therapy. 
  • Mental illness or disorders such as depression, anxiety or ADHD: Ultimately every condition has its unique characteristics, so seek out professional medical help to aid your sleep and overall symptom management. Insomnia and poor sleep is a condition that often comes hand in hand with another illness, however, CBT for insomnia can help to ease this specific symptom.
  • New parents: “Just try to accept you’ll be woken and take the pressure off. A lot of new parents get into this habit of getting into bed early because they’re desperate to try and get the sleep back. For some people that works…for the vast majority of people, it simply doesn’t. You lay there tossing and turning, getting more and more wound up and relating sleep to anxiety. So sometimes I say to people forget that you’re going to be disturbed. Have a normal evening, have dinner, spend time with your partner, make tomorrow less stressful by getting a few jobs done and just relax. You can get just as much energy from relaxing, grounding yourself and being in the moment as you can from sleep sometimes.”
  • Sleeping tablets: Kathryn highlights how sleeping tablets play into the psychological component of sleep - causing dependency and anxiety when someone decides to come off of them. She advises that if sleeping tablets are not something that is working for you or a loved one to seek professional help to progressively reduce dosage and help manage the anxieties that arise around this process. 

We hope you’ve been able to take away something from Kathryn’s brilliant sleep wisdom! To check out her full PepTalk, subscribe to our weekly service where she goes into more depth on these topics and answers some more questions too. Or, if you’re keen to book Kathryn for a sleep talk for your team, get in touch with our team. 

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