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Are You Sleep Deprived?

Publication date: 19 January 2014

In my therapy practice I see a lot of people who don't sleep well but who don't list improving sleep as one of their top priorities. I suspect a lot more don't get enough good quality sleep, but they either don't realise it or don't think it matters. Typically my clients are seeking help for emotional problems and stress, brain fog and poor focus, and low energy and motivation. All of these are strongly influenced by sleep deprivation, so improving sleep quality is an obvious strategy. Clearly for me, raising awareness of the effects of sleep deprivation is important.

How do you know if you are sleep deprived?

It's not as simple as how many hours you actually sleep for, because sleep needs vary quite a bit between individuals. Instead you have to look for the signs and symptoms:

  • Poor short-term and working memory - holding things in mind such as intentions.
  • Poor focus and concentration, and poor performance at tasks requiring focus (more mistakes).
  • Loss of stamina or motivation.
  • You always need an alarm clock to wake you on time, and when it goes off you feel half dead (still feel very tired). Or you press the snooze button and fall back to sleep.
  • You take a long time to feel awake, having gotten out of bed, and need caffeine to get going.
  • You fall asleep easily during the daytime, e.g. on the train or even at your desk.
  • You catch up on sleep at the weekends and holidays (i.e. sleep a lot longer).
  • Going to bed late - around midnight or later. This is a problem because sleep time before midnight is the most optimum in terms of Human Growth Hormone - you need this (even if you're grown-up) to repair and revitalise physically.

It's not just how much sleep you get that matters, but also the quality. Broadly speaking there are two important types: deep sleep and REM sleep. REM sleep is when we do most of our dreaming and is important for psychological and emotional rejuvenation, while deep sleep repairs and rejuvenates the body. You may be getting too much of one and not enough of the other - e.g. in depression there is too much REM sleep.

How do you correct sleep deficit and insomnia? In my experience there is no single magic bullet - because there is no single cause. There is no substitute for addressing lifestyle factors such as diet and nutrition, and stress. You also need to implement the set of practices known as sleep hygiene. Biofeedback is a great means of addressing stress and an over-hyped nervous system. Alpha-stim is an easy-to-use tool proven to improve sleep, and available to rent for clients of York Mind-Body Health.

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