Updated: Mar 28
How can improving our sleep help us be even more successful and how can we ensure that by having more sleep, we can create these guilt free boundaries and prevent burnout?
We know that life, circumstances and different stages of life can all impact our sleep, whether it's partying too much in our teens, whether it's illnesses, mental health issues, anxiety, depression, menopause, perhaps your monthly cycle impacts your sleep, babies, caring responsibilities, parenting; all of these things can impact our sleep.
Since the pandemic a lot of women are stopping work, picking up more responsibilities in the house, doing what needs to be done at home, and then getting work done later in the evening. They are going to bed later and getting up earlier to get more things done. So their sleep window has been deleted.
You may have heard me talk about mental health before or if you've completed my masterclass called Mindset: What Got You Here, you'll know how much emphasis I place on the quality of sleep. Quality sleep can help us to reduce anxiety, stress, depression and help us to prevent burnout. Sleep helps us to feel healthier, happier and have much more energy. However, if we are at the point of burnout, a couple of nights of improved sleep is not going to fix it for us. If we're overly stressed, anxious or depressed, a couple of nights sleep is not going to fix it for us. But if we don't get the quality of sleep that we need, we will really start to struggle. There have been studies done that have proven that driving whilst tired, can be more dangerous and more lethal than drink driving.
One of the reasons that I stopped drinking alcohol a few years back was because I had started to recognise the patterns, that on the days that I had a drink, my sleep was impacted and I was waking up feeling more anxious in the mornings. Now it could have been only one glass of wine with dinner, or a quick pint in a beer garden after taking the dog for a walk, but alcohol was a real trigger for me. So I stopped drinking and I started to notice that my sleep was improving. I have also learnt that when I am doing any high intensity cardio exercise after five or six o’clock in the evening, then my sleep will be impacted. So I do my cardio in the morning and this gives me an energy boost for the day. If I want a good night's sleep, I have to either do no exercise in the evening or just go for a gentle walk or do some yoga.
I stopped using devices after 8pm and I also stopped doing what I had seen so many people talk about and that was leaving a notepad by the side of my bed. I do always have my journal there now and I do journal and meditate in the evening, which really helps me. But a notepad by the side of my bed was not good for me because, in order for me to write on that notepad I would have to sit up, turn the light on, get my pen and my pad and when I was starting to write, more and more thoughts and ideas would pop into my head. So then when I turned off the light and laid down again, I was more awake and couldn’t get back to sleep. So I stopped doing that.
There’s a company called Better You who do great vitamins, sprays and lotions and I have found that magnesium lotion really helps with sleep. I also don't drink caffeine and only drink peppermint tea throughout the day, I stick to water and don't eat big meals after six or seven o'clock at night and I also ensure that I’m not doing or watching anything that is too high energy in the evenings.
A lot of women that I speak to are exhausted and think just getting more sleep is going to fix it, for some it will, but not always. Sleep is vital for our physical health, emotional health and our mental health. If our mental health particularly starts to become impacted, and anxiety creeps in or depression kicks in, that can have a knock on effect on our self esteem, on our self confidence, or on our self compassion. We can start to get to a point of emotional fatigue, we can become over anxious, we can start worrying about everything, we can have panic attacks, we can get ourselves into a place of constant fear, we can get ourselves to a point of total imposter syndrome and we can get ourselves to the point of burnout.
Burnout in itself isn't a mental health condition, but the high levels of stress that can cause us to get to burnout, can absolutely have a knock on effect and cause us to have mental health issues. I speak to so many women where sleep is just not their priority and sleep is something they'll do when the kids are older, or when the project is finished. And yet sleep is an essential function that allows our mind and body to recharge and when we get the right amount of sleep, we wake up in the morning feeling refreshed and alert. Sleep also helps our body remain healthy and can help us to fight off or eliminate illnesses and diseases.
Without enough sleep the brain cannot function properly and we need to have enough REM sleep. Lack of sleep can have a knock on effect in our ability to concentrate, to think clearly and to process memories. And most of us will require between seven and nine hours of sleep a night. 8 hours of sleep is my optimal amount of sleep, but I have noticed during the winter months and the darker nights, I need more sleep and I need around 9 hours.
Children and teenagers need a lot more sleep, particularly if they are younger than 5. Things like work schedules, day to day stresses, a disruptive bedroom environment or medical conditions can all prevent us from receiving enough sleep. Healthy diet and positive lifestyle habits (and it's the habits that we need to focus on here) can help ensure that we get the right amount of sleep each night.
You may have noticed that on those late nights where you want to have a lay in the next day, your body wakes you up around the same time as your alarm would have gone off and you may only get a few hours of sleep. This is due to our internal body clock and this regulates our sleep cycles and controls when we feel tired, when we're ready for bed, but also when we feel refreshed and alert. This clock operates on a 24 hour cycle known as the circadian rhythm.
So after waking up from sleep, we become increasingly more tired throughout the day. These feelings will peak in the evening as they lead up to bedtime and this sleep drive known as sleep/wake homeostasis is linked to adenosine. There are chemical triggers that are impacted and our adenosine levels increase throughout the day as we become more tired, then the body breaks this down as we sleep.
Things like light also influence this circadian rhythm. Our brain contains a special region of nerve cells known as the hypothalamus, which is a cluster of cells that process signals when the eyes are exposed to natural or artificial light. It's the signals that help the brain to determine whether it's day or night. For me personally I started to notice I needed more sleep in the winter months than I did in the summer months. So to help me, I invested in a lumie light that you can set as you go to bed at night. So it's almost as though the sun is setting and you can wake up to it rising in the morning.
As natural light disappears in the evening, the body releases melatonin which is a hormone that induces drowsiness. So when the sun rises in the morning the body releases the hormone that we know as cortisol, which promotes our energy and our alertness.
We have four stages of sleep:
The first three stages are known as non rapid eye movement (NREM)
The final stage is known as rapid eye movement (REM)
Stage one of this and NREM is the transition between wakefulness and sleep and it consists of a very light sleep. So our muscles relax, our heart rate relaxes, we breathe more, we start to breathe in a calmer way, our eye movements and brain waves begin to slow down and this stage one can last for several minutes. You may have heard me talk previously about my love of yoga and yoga nidra, which is a deep meditative yogic sleep and usually triggers us between stage one and stage two. Things like hypnotherapy or guided meditations and visualisations takes you also between stage one and two.
Stage two of the NREM is characterised by deeper sleep, as your heart rate and breathing rate continues slowing down, the muscles start to become more relaxed, eye movements cease, body temperature will start to decrease. If you've ever done yoga, at the end when you go into that final relaxation, you'll usually be encouraged to cover yourself over with a blanket, this is when your body temperature starts to really decrease. And in stage two, apart from some brief moments of higher frequency electrical activity, our brainwaves also remain quite slow and stage two is typically the longest of the four sleep stages.
Stage three of our NREM plays a very important role in making us feel refreshed and alert the next day. Our heartbeat, breathing and brainwave activity all reach their lowest levels, and the muscles are as relaxed as they will be. This stage is longer at first, and then decreases in duration throughout the night.
Stage four is when we have our REM sleep which occurs about 90 minutes after we fall asleep.
As the name suggests, our eyes move back and forth rather quickly under our eyelids, our heart rate and blood pressure begin to increase and this is the point that dreaming starts to take place. Dreaming is the important part of our sleep, because it's here that we begin to process all of our thoughts throughout the day. It's this REM sleep and the quality of our REM sleep that allows us to wake up feeling calmer, it's that part that empties our stress bucket as we sleep, so that we wake up feeling calmer and much more relaxed.
So it’s safe to say that I’m a huge, huge fan of sleep!
We can implement positive lifestyle and sleep habits in order to get seven to nine hours of sleep that we need. Some of you might be thinking, I can function fully on four or five hours of sleep. But really pay attention to if you actually can. Just because you can get out of bed in the morning, are you actually functioning throughout the course of the day?
I had undiagnosed postnatal depression for quite a while after I had my twin sons, and looking back I know I must have sounded ridiculous, but I genuinely believed that I was fully functioning. And yet when I look back, I was actually in robot mode. I'd wake up in the morning, and it was literally like I was ticking off all of these things that I needed to do. So I'd wake up, I'd get in the shower, the boys would wake up, I would take them downstairs, get them breakfast, get them washed and dressed and everything ready. Then I’d start to do my hair and makeup, get dressed and we would leave the house at the same time everyday. I was only getting four or five hours of (mostly disturbed) sleep a night and when I look back, I was absolutely exhausted and I was living in robot mode.
So whatever amount of time you are sleeping, I would like you to ask yourself;
Are you really functioning?
Are you fully able to live in the sense of truly living?
Are you feeling all the feels and doing everything that you need to be doing?
Are you enjoying things?
Are you happy and coping?
Are you being brave?
Or are you getting through the day anxious, depressed, stressed, withdrawn, not coping emotionally, maybe not always coping mentally? So there's a difference. My hope is that as core-led women you are happy, coping, brave and incredible, but if not, then there are things you can do whilst implementing positive lifestyle and sleep habits. You can establish a realistic bedtime and stick to it every night (even on weekends.)
What time do you go to bed?
I am in bed every night between nine and 10 o'clock because I'm an early riser. So between nine and 10 o'clock I'm in bed. I do a bit of journaling, do a bit of meditation and then lights out and I stick to that as much as possible.
How many times have you been on a holiday and your habits and patterns have gone completely out the window and you come back from your holiday even more knackered than when you went? This is likely because you have impacted your sleep. So establish a realistic bedtime, stick to it every night, even at weekends, maintain a comfortable room temperature, have low light and ensure you have a comfortable sleep environment like good pillows, sheets and a mattress.
Your mattress is so important and is one thing that you should invest good money in, as you are in it every day. Your quality of sleep depends on it and I have invested a serious amount of money in a good quality mattress that is right for me. Consider a screen ban and try not to watch the tv in bed, or read a kindle or scroll on your phone. It’s the white light on these devices that can keep us awake. Also try to abstain from things like caffeine, alcohol and large meals in the evening.
Please prioritise your sleep.
As we know core-led women do three things:
They understand who they are at the core.