We all know from experience how important a good night’s sleep can be to our wellbeing. And yet, the idea of getting your eight hours undisturbed every night has become a joke; dismissed by many as an unimaginable, utopian luxury. In fact, it’s a basic necessity!
Humans Need Sleep to Thrive
Unfortunately, a very high proportion of us go without – according to sleep advocacy group, The Sleep Council, 40% of people in the UK suffer with sleep issues and 25% of schoolchildren don’t get enough sleep, either. Yes, there are people that can and do manage on less, but just ‘managing’ is not always healthy. Human beings deserve to thrive, not simply run on autopilot. One part of our mission to improve lives is to help everyone get a good night’s sleep – so after years of research it is exciting to hear from Sensate owners that it really works.
“Have not slept as well for very many years and feel relaxed during the day.” ~ Jon E, London
Sleep plays a role in the healthy functioning of a huge variety of biological and psychological processes. Good, restorative sleep has been shown to have beneficial effects on your mood, memory, energy levels, weight and concentration, among many other aspects of your daily life. Lack of sleep can prevent your body from regenerating important substances at the necessary rate, creating deficiencies that are detrimental to normal functioning.
While You Sleep, Your Body Does Vital Work
More extreme chronic sleep deprivation is detrimental to cardiovascular health, and significantly increases the risk of stroke and heart disease. Critically, research published in the journal Science indicates that your brain actually needs sleep to perform vital self-cleaning, clearing out the waste products that brain cells generate as a result of normal daytime tasks. This is an important finding for helping people with optimising cognitive functions but also in approaches to Alzheimer’s and dementia.
Full Mind? You're Not Alone
Sleep mechanics are very complex, and there are a variety of different frameworks for understanding sleep. I find that Chinese medicine provides a framework that works for most people and is not complex neuroscience. The two basic forms of sleep disturbance are described using the concepts of Shi and Xu, or Fullness and Emptiness. Shi sleep disturbance is characterised by taking a long time to get to sleep because the mind is too full and busy, while Xu sleep disturbance involves waking frequently during the night because of one of several types of deficiency in the body. One person can have a combination of both forms of sleep disturbance - and many do.
Stress and anxiety are among the most common causes of chronic insomnia and other forms of sleep deprivation. A stressful working life, for example, can make it difficult to switch off the mind and accept the quietness of sleep, leading to Shi-type sleep disruption. The frequent waking of Xu-type disruption, on the other hand, is often linked to anxiety, as the anxious mind may perceive any unexpected stimulus as a potential threat and rouse the body to respond.
Helping Yourself to Sleep Better
Learning to self-regulate stress and increase your resiliency is one of the most commonly effective ways to reduce sleep disruption. There are many tried and tested methods, including:
- Managing breathing. Under stressful conditions, your body tends to start breathing more rapidly and taking shallow breaths. Learning to calm and slow your breathing, especially before bed, can reduce symptoms of stress and improve sleep.
- Meditation. As well as helping to train your breath, meditation has been shown to increase the activity of the parasympathetic nervous system (PNS), which triggers the unconscious processes which the body uses to slow down functioning, relax and repair itself. This helps counter the effects of stress, which stimulate the fight-flight-freeze processes of the sympathetic nervous system (SNS).
- Herbal medicine. Ancient and modern herbal medicine practices offer a variety of ways to help encourage peaceful sleep. The simplest is brewing herbal tea using appropriate ingredients, such as peppermint, turmeric or liquorice for Shi-type disruption, or camomile, goji or rosebud for Xu-type.
Make Tech and Science Work for You
For many years, these were the only ways towards decent sleep, and while they worked brilliantly for some, that wasn’t the case for everybody. Today the ante has been emphatically upped with brand new tech. While tech (more particularly our almost universal addiction to the hand-held device) can cause stress, it’s also a superpower that can be harnessed for good. Wearable tech such as our Sensate device can be used to directly stimulate the PNS. Sensate uses infrasonic technology to stimulate the vagus nerve, a crucial part of the PNS, almost miraculously reducing the physical symptoms of stress. It's just science. Placed on the chest, the portable device produces engineered tones that are felt rather than heard, enabling users to experience digital music as whole-body vibrotactile sound. As well as being deeply relaxing in itself, this conditions the vagus nerve, providing many of the same benefits as extended meditation practice, with less of the time commitment.
We eat healthily to keep our body in good condition. We stay hydrated to help our brain and muscles perform well. Why wouldn’t we regard it as just as normal to work on improving our sleep? If you struggle with sleep disturbance of any kind, the first step is taking matters into your own hands. Do your research, start looking for the methods and aids that could work for you, and reclaim your basic need for restful, restorative sleep. It’s an investment you’ll never regret.