Why is Sleep so Important?

1 in 3 of us don’t get enough sleep.

So what?  We all have busy lives, surely we have more important things to do than sleep? Our never ending ‘to do’ lists at work and at home mean lots of pressure on our time. 

And sleep doesn’t get things done does it? It doesn’t tick anything off the list.

Today our ‘always busy’ culture seems to see sleep as one of those things that gets in the way of us doing more.

“There’s plenty of time to sleep when you die” is a phrase I hear bandied about at personal development talks where success is encouraged by a routine of getting up at 5am and cramming as much into your day as possible.

In the past though, we had a very different view on sleep – it wasn’t something that got in the way of us doing things, it was worshipped.  The Ancient Egyptians even had temples to sleep as they recognised how important it was.  Interestingly the Egyptians dedicated their sleep temples to a god called Imhotep, the earliest known physician.

And here lies a clue as to why sleep is so important for us.  From a medical point of view we know what regular sleep deprivation does to us to the extent that night shift work is defined as a type 2 carcinogen alongside substances such as creosotes, lead compounds, insecticides, petrol and the HPV virus.

Research shows us that after 10 days of just 7 hours of sleep a night, the brain is as dysfunctional as it would be after going without sleep for 24 hours (that’s right – 7 hours of sleep is not enough!).  Another report showed that driving after only 4-5 hours of sleep was comparable to driving with a blood alcohol content at or above the legal limit.

People getting only 5 hours sleep a night are 50% more likely to be obese and that rises to 73% for 4 hours of sleep.

There is a reason sleep deprivation is used as an interrogation method – it impacts our cognitive functions, causes memory loss, impairs our moral judgement and increases our pain response.

Sleep deprivation also impairs our immune system, increases our risk of heart disease and causes symptoms similar to ADHD, it even limits our ability to retain positive experiences. The list of negative effects seems to be never ending.

So what is actually happening when we sleep that makes it so beneficial to us?

We do two things when we sleep – we restore our mind and we restore our bodies, two different types of sleep.  Our REM sleep (Rapid Eye Movement) restores our mind, allowing us to switch off our stress response so we can process the information we have taken in during the day in a calm, rational way. Our brain decides what bits of information to keep helping us to form memories. It also decides which bits to throw away and does a general all round tidy up – it’s a bit like running the hoover around your mind!

The ideal scenario is that about 20% of our sleep should be this REM sleep, helping to restore our mind, and the other 80% of our sleep should be Slow Wave Sleep, the sleep that restores us physically.  And this is often where our sleep goes wrong.

It’s easy to presume that a problem with sleep is to do with what we are doing just before bedtime – too much caffeine, too much screen time, not enough wind down time.  And whilst it is important to have good ‘sleep hygiene’ the large majority of our problems with sleep are due to what is happening earlier on in the day.

If we spend our days stressing or worrying about things, over analysing or going back over things we are giving our brain far too much processing to do during the night; far too much to fit into just 20% of our sleep.  And that processing and is hard work! When our brain is in REM mode it is working 4 times harder than a maths exam!

If our brain recognises that we are overdoing REM it will wake us up in an effort to stop us overdoing it.  Not a great result, as we are left wide awake in the middle of the night, often multiple times as our brain cycles through its sleep patterns.

But the alternative is often worse – if our brain overrides that 20% signal and just keeps going in an effort to process all that information it is mentally exhausting!  And of course, if we’re overdoing the REM, we are underdoing the Slow Wave Sleep.  So we wake up both mentally and physically exhausted.

And this is where we get tempted with sleeping tablets. 10% of all GP appointments are related to sleeping issues, which isn’t surprising when we see that 39% of adults in the UK sleep for less than 7 hours a night.

But sleeping tablets aren’t the answer, not long term anyway.  Sleeping tablets sedate us and whilst we are in that sedated state we will only be getting the physical restorative sleep, not the essential REM sleep we need to restore our minds. So long term, sleeping tablets could lead to an even bigger problem.

And this is where hypnotherapy comes in – getting those sleep patterns back on track so you are getting the best quality of sleep. Hypnotherapy also helps you to step back and see the bigger picture so that you are more likely to make better choices about the time you set aside for sleep and as a result you are much more likely to make a choice based on a future outcome (“If I stop now and get a good night’s sleep I’ll get that task done quicker and better tomorrow morning”, rather than “if I pull an all-nighter I might just be able to finish something, even if it’s not great quality”).  It’s also super-fast at reducing all those stresses and anxieties we have during the day so that your brain doesn’t have so much information to process at night.

Not only that, but 20 minutes of hypnosis is the equivalent of 4 hours sleep and with so many of us not getting enough sleep, or the right type of sleep that has to be a good thing!

Around 8 hours of good quality sleep is the most important contribution anyone can give to their health. Sleep is not an indulgence to fit in when you can, it is essential for our mental and physical wellbeing so we should be taking a leaf out of the Ancient Egyptian’s books (or scrolls!) and start prioritising it.

About the Author: Caroline Prout is based in our Thrapston clinic in rural East Northamptonshire.  Caroline chose to retrain as a hypnotherapist after her own anxiety led to physical health problems and a diagnosis of Chronic Fatigue Syndrome.  “One of the things that helped me the most in my recovery was understanding how our brains work and why that can have such a huge impact on our wellbeing, both physical and mental and this is something I now share with all my clients”.  Using her own experiences and training Caroline specialises in helping people overcome anxiety and chronic conditions such as CFS, Fibromyalgia and other auto-immune conditions.

If you you are struggling to get a good night’s sleep then perhaps it’s time to get in touch to book your FREE initial consultation with your local Inspired to Change hypnotherapist. Inspired to Change Hypnotherapists are based across the UK in Peterborough, Northamptonshire, Cambridgeshire, Leicestershire, Devon, Norfolk and Kent.

Inspired to Change Hypnotherapists are all recognised by the National Council for Hypnotherapy, the UK’s leading not-for-profit hypnotherapy professional association.

To find out how you can train as a solution focused hypnotherapist click here for our hypnotherapy school information