Night School: Wake up to the Power of Sleep – A Review

Night SchoolAfter reading The Whole Health Life I have decided to look into specific areas of my health in more depth, one at a time, at the moment it’s insomnia. One book recommended by Shannon Harvey is Night School: Wake up to the Power of Sleep by Richard Wiseman.

The research on sleep is fascinating. Based on answers around when we like to go to bed, get up and do our best work there is a table to sort us into chronotypes – larks or owls, (p41) I’m a “moderate lark”. Apparently larks are more likely to be introverted, logical and reliable while owls are likely to be extroverted, emotionally stable, hedonistic and creative. These would mostly hold true of my husband (an owl) and I.

What is also interesting is that I appear to follow the usual circadian rhythm, my body will start waking up at 7am, peak at 11am, decline to the lowest point by 3, climb and peak again around 7 with my body seeking sleep from 9. So I assume I just have slightly weaker ability to wake and sleep than others, while still following the natural pattern. I’ve filed this away for future follow up!

Another issue of timing is “social jetlag” for example during the week the owls will be tired from getting to work while their body wants to be sleeping. On the weekend (or any night for me!) When my owl of a husband wants to socialise I’m ready for bed. Causing each chronotype to suffer fatigue.

Wiseman references a lot of research. For example, in 2006 it was “estimated that around sixty million Americans suffer from a chronic sleep disorder” (p57) and approximately a third of Americans now get less than seven hours of sleep per night. In a British study more than 30% of participants had insomnia or another serious sleep problem. With this setting the scene, Wiseman goes on to explain what happens when you don’t get enough sleep – spoiler alert, nothing good.

“Belenskys’s study reveals the highly pernicious nature of even a small amount of sleep deprivation. Just a few nights sleeping for seven hours or less and your brain goes into slow motion. To make matters worse you will continue to feel fine and so don’t make allowances for your sluggish mind. Within just a couple of days this level of sleep deprivation transforms you into an accident waiting to happen.” (P67)

After all the bad news around not sleeping enough, Wiseman shares his secrets of super sleep and they include include:

1. Create a bat cave
Dark and silent room, right temperature, safe, only sleep and sex in the bedroom.

2. Set up during the day
Nap right, exercise but not too close to bed time unless it’s gentle yoga, use your brain and energy, know when you’re tired (don’t ignore sleep cues, unless you are tired all day, then don’t ignore your bedtime).

3. Prepare for bedtime
Warm shower/bath, write out your worries, snack right, lavender (unless it gives you a headache!).

4. At bedtime
Counting sheep, happy thoughts, fake a yawn, try to stay awake (reverse psychology on your brain!), set up some sleep cues (I have an eye mask, the dark and gentle pressure on my eyes now cues me to rest).

5. In the night
Get up (unless you physically can’t), don’t panic – apparently we get more sleep than we think, relaxing in bed is good rest and the closest the list comes to recommending meditation is to suggest progressive relaxation (I do a body scan meditation when I wake).

Nothing here is new to me, but it is presented in easily actionable chunks, if you want a list of sleep hygiene to follow, this is a good one. I would add meditation, I can’t nap and even if I do it’s only after a long time of trying and I feel gross afterward. So I meditate. Sometimes, if all the stars align, after a 20-30 minute meditation I’ll nod off for 5-10 minutes and wake up feeling nicely rested (very unusual). I use guided meditation during the day, at bedtime and in the night I do a body scan meditation (I visualise each body part individually relaxing, sometimes I’ll imagine it’s warm and tingly and relaxed, other times I’ll just imagine each part in turn).

Again as I delve into the research around sleep I am flummoxed at the lack of worry the doctors I have come into contact with have shown for my sleep. They should know how desperately humans need it, let alone people with chronic pain and fatigue already. I’ll keep you updated if I find anything useful in my research and experiments.

Advertisements

Biofeedback Therapy, Another Tool

If you have read through my blog a little, you will see I have found meditation to be immeasurably useful. Especially in my second pregnancy.Biofeedback Therapy

The thought of furthering my meditation practice was a highly appealing one. In addition, receiving some assistance after doing this (mostly) alone for most of my life, was a nice emotional boost.

Having a tool that can help my body and mind relax so thoroughly has been a lifesaver. I have spent many many hours miserable, exhausted, sore and wishing I could sleep. When Nu was small and I was desperate for sleep, my body still refused to nap. And when I lay down, exhausted, hoping I’d pass out, I’d not only not sleep but become upset that I couldn’t. Now I can lie down for 15, 20, 40 or 45 minutes, depending on the mediation I choose, and feel rested and calm. Sometimes I fall asleep for 10 minutes at the end. This is one tool I seek to utilise every day.

In addition to this, I have found, through biofeedback therapy that I am able to effect my central nervous system through my meditation. As a person with Fibromyalgia, a central nervous system disorder, my parasympathetic nervous system needs some support. The emerging research around heart-rate variability is shedding light on just how important teaching our parasympathetic to activate is.

My two plus years of practice has made a big difference. Through deep breathing, visualisation and meditation I am able to activate my parasympathetic system (rest and digest) which I believe leads to less pain and more energy. I am definitely in a better place than I was prior to beginning my meditation practice.

So when I was offered biofeedback therapy with a health psychologist at the pain clinic after a non-event follow up with a pain specialist, I jumped at the chance.

A biofeedback therapy session involves having a heart-rate monitor placed on your thumb that sends your heart-rate to a laptop. The newer systems have fancy graphs and many things to look at, at it’s simplest, it provides beeps to let you know how high or low your heart-rate is.

In two sessions I tried two types of guided meditations led by the health psychologist and employed deep breathing and visualisation on my own. I was able to conquer the medium setting on the machine (apparently they don’t usually tell people with chronic pain that there are higher settings than low because without practice it can be very difficult).

I do need to practice relaxing my shoulders and neck as my heart-rate obviously kicked up when we got to those parts in the relaxation meditation. This is unsurprising as these parts are tight and sore all day, every day. A physio can make them relax a little through neck tractions and acupuncture needles in key points, heat can help too, but nothing makes them feel nice. So this is my homework, I’ll keep working on visualising and relaxing these body parts.

Biofeedback therapy has provided a useful check in with how my meditation practice is going and provided some areas to work on. I feel so empowered to have a tool that can not only initiate short term relief, but has long term effects (which are only just starting to be researched).

Has anyone else had experience with biofeedback therapy? Does anyone else find meditation to be so helpful?