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Sweet Dreams! A Guide To Quality Sleep

Updated: Apr 4

Child sleeping
Sleeping like a baby!

It sounds weird to gloat about having a good nights sleep, but when you’ve struggled for a long time and you know there are many others struggling right now I’ve decided it’s important to share what I’ve discovered on my mission for the perfect night’s sleep.

In my work every day, with my patients I ask them about their sleep and many are suffering through insomnia for many and varied reasons, including chronic pain, sleep apnea, post cancer treatments, post surgery, peri and post menopausal due to hormone changes, ageing, anxiety, depression and mental illness.

Just like the causes, the methods to correct are many and varied. It’s not a one size fits all approach.

I have been studying sleep in depth over the last year and looked at the latest research, read books and listened to podcasts.

I know the principals that research is showing we should be doing, but struggled to make it happen in amongst the craziness of mum life, running my own business and trying to keep some semblance of order in my home and life.

I struggle like many working mums to keep all the balls in the air!

I often feel like I’m at there fair ground bashing the frogs that pop their heads out, with a mallet. Just when ones down, another is up, then another and another! There is no end to it and there’s always a fire to put out and that ever growing ‘to do’ list you can’t get through and get 8 hours sleep, then start again with the new, bigger list, the next day!

I know the research shows we need 7-9 hours sleep minimum a night, with some variance between each person’s needs, women needing on average, one hour more every 24 hours than men.

Once we shorten our sleep and reply on alarms to wake use, we are increasing our chances of many chronic diseases including diabetes, heart disease, obesity, cancer, dementia and mental illnesses.

The odd night of less than optimal sleep is OK, but not repeatedly, as over time, we will pay the price.

My New Years word for 2024 was SLEEP!

I decided enough was enough, I need to practice what I preach and start working on my own sleep and my families sleep. I have learned so much from experimenting to find the optimum conditions to score a 100% sleep fitness score.

When I was researching sleep I came across several men in their 50’s who were focused entirely on their sleep and going to great lengths, doing bizarre behaviours to ensure they scored optimum sleep scores, in the quest for chronic disease prevention and longevity. Some of these are researchers, some wealthy business men investing to learn more, in their quest for immortality.

I have listened to them all, taken on board the parts I can manage, let go of the ones that hard too hard to add at the moment and I have found I have been able to turn around my own sleep fitness.

Screen Shot of 100% Sleep Fitness Score report
100% Sleep Fitness Score report

I thought I was fit as I exercise daily, drink lots of water, eat healthily, have yoga and breathing practices. However when I looked at my stats they were not good. I wasn’t getting enough sleep, even though I was trying to be in bed for 8 hours. When I had a busy day I would often stay up late to try to catch up on work to be less stressed the next day. This was counter productive and made me tired, grumpy, less productive and more stressed the next day.

Screen shot of Sleep Stages and REM Sleep Score
Sleep Stages and REM Sleep Score

I have realised that sleep is the number one priority for health, at the top of the battery check, before exercise, nourishment, rest and connection.

I also realised my HRV, (heart rate variability, or variation of time between heart beats), was very low, indicating poor recovery and stress. Sufficient recovery time between exercise and stress management techniques improve HRV over time.

Screen shot of Deep Sleep & HRV
Deep Sleep & HRV

HRV varies greatly based on age, biological sex, and genetics. For example, one study found that 47-64% of your HRV is genetic. Still, ~50% of your HRV is modifiable through sleep and lifestyle factors. It is best to only compare your HRV values to yourself as HRV varies widely from person to person. The best way to use your daily HRV value is to look at nightly changes in your HRV in response to certain behaviours (like drinking alcohol or exercising), while also monitoring changes in your HRV across time. Monitoring trends in your HRV across time can give you a good indicator of whether your cardiovascular health is changing based on lifestyle changes like exercise, diet, and sleep. If your HRV dips below your normal baseline, it might be an indication that you might be getting sick, or needing more rest to recover from a hard workout, or that you are stressed. Alternatively, an increase in HRV could indicate positive lifestyle changes, like getting good quality sleep, eating healthier, and staying hydrated. Look at general trends in your HRV over time to better understand how your behaviours are impacting your cardiovascular and nervous system health.

It’s no good doing lots of exercise and eating healthily if your sleep quality and quantity is low.

If your battery is feeling depleted do a check and see whether lack of quality sleep is draining you.

There are many factors to consider in addition to length of sleep, going to bed early certainly helps, but its not the whole picture.

Sleep tips for women over 50

For sleep hygiene for women over 50 consider optimum temperature, darkness, noise, mattress, pillow, hydration, caffeine and alcohol intake, diet, timing of meals, exercise, stress impact, to name a few.

It’s a fine balance and surprisingly takes a lot of effort, understanding, trial and error, prioritisation and consistency to get it right.

Check out in my history from the screen shots, my sleep on Tuesday March 19th 2024. I went to bed too late, was awake until 11.36pm, as I couldn’t switch off my brain, after working too late. My deep restorative sleep was too low as this happens predominantly before midnight. My REM sleep, essential for memory and mental health was low and my HRV,  (heart rate variability, or variation of time between heart beats), was very low, indicating poor recovery and stress. My overall sleep was only 5 hours, 27 mins, way below the recommended 7-9 hours.

Screen shot of Poor Sleep Fitness Score
Poor Sleep Fitness Score

Screen shot of Sleep Stages and Low REM Sleep Score
Sleep Stages and Low REM Sleep Score

Screen shot of Low REM, Deep Sleep & HRV Scores
Low REM, Deep Sleep & HRV Scores

Interestingly this data had a cascade effect on my whole week and it took me several nights to get my sleep pattern back on track as I felt tired and stressed, ate too much sugar to compensate and caused several nights of poor length and quality of sleep as a result.

What are the effects of poor sleep?

Poor sleep can have a wide range of detrimental effects on both physical and mental health. Here are some common consequences of inadequate or poor-quality sleep:

Sleep challenges for health

Physical Effects:

  • Weakened Immune System: Inadequate sleep can compromise the immune system, making the body more susceptible to illnesses and infections.

  • Weight Gain and Obesity: Poor sleep is associated with an increased risk of weight gain and obesity. It can disrupt the balance of hormones that regulate appetite, leading to overeating.

  • Cardiovascular Issues: Chronic sleep deprivation has been linked to an increased risk of heart disease, high blood pressure, and stroke.

  • Diabetes Risk: Insufficient sleep can negatively impact insulin sensitivity, contributing to an increased risk of type 2 diabetes.

  • Impaired Cognitive Function: Poor sleep is known to affect cognitive functions such as concentration, memory, and decision-making. It can also impair overall brain function.

  • Increased Inflammation: Lack of sleep is associated with elevated levels of inflammatory markers in the body, which may contribute to chronic inflammatory conditions.

  • Decreased Libido: Sleep deprivation can lead to a decrease in libido and sexual function.

  • Muscle and Joint Pain: Poor sleep can exacerbate pain sensitivity and discomfort, leading to increased perception of muscle and joint pain.

Mental and Emotional Effects:

  • Mood Swings and Irritability: Sleep plays a crucial role in regulating mood, and insufficient sleep can result in mood swings, irritability, and increased stress.

  • Anxiety and Depression: Chronic sleep deprivation is linked to an increased risk of developing anxiety and depression. Sleep disturbances can also worsen existing mental health conditions.

  • Poor Stress Management: Adequate sleep is essential for stress resilience. Lack of sleep can make it more challenging to cope with everyday stressors.

  • Decreased Emotional Regulation: Sleep deprivation can impair the brain's ability to regulate emotions, leading to heightened emotional responses and difficulty in managing stress.

  • Reduced Creativity and Problem-Solving Skills: Lack of sleep can hinder creative thinking and problem-solving abilities, impacting overall cognitive performance.

  • Increased Risk-Taking Behaviour: Sleep-deprived individuals may exhibit increased impulsivity and engage in riskier behaviours.

  • Hallucinations and Perception Disturbances: Severe sleep deprivation can lead to hallucinations, perceptual distortions, and impaired reality testing.

  • Poorer Quality of Life: Cumulative effects of poor sleep can significantly impact overall quality of life, affecting relationships, work performance, and daily functioning.

It's important to prioritise good sleep hygiene and address any underlying sleep disorders to mitigate these adverse effects and promote overall well-being. If sleep issues persist, seeking guidance from healthcare professionals is recommended, addressing underlying health issues.

Yoga Corpse Pose
Yoga Corpse Pose

Women's sleep health

Therapeutic Interventions for women's sleep wellness, to assist in coping with insomnia after menopause and of assistance in addressing sleep challenges for women's health, including:

  • Menopause and sleep problems

  • Post-menopausal sleep solutions

  • Menopausal insomnia remedies

  • Sleep strategies for ageing women

  • Managing sleep disturbances post-cancer

  • Sleep after cancer treatment

  • Post-cancer fatigue and sleep

Therapies assisting quality sleep for women's health include:

  • Cognitive-behavioural therapy for insomnia (CBT-I).

  • Yoga therapy practices including postures, breath work and meditation.

  • Alternative therapies including acupuncture or herbal supplements for hormonal changes and sleep in women.

OK, if I want 100% sleep fitness, I need to get off the screen and get my exercise and jobs done so I can eat early, stretch and do my breathing exercises to get to bed in time to maximise my sleep score tonight!

Let me know how your sleep is going and any tips you’ve found helpful.

Happy sleeping friends 😴

Emma Najman, NDIS Registered Provider & Cancer Rehab Physiotherapist, Pilates Teacher & Yoga Therapist
Emma Najman, NDIS Registered Provider & Cancer Rehab Physiotherapist, Pilates Teacher & Yoga Therapist

If you need more help please reach out for a sleep assessment and sleep program.

Join our Exercise & Sleep Matters To Combat Ageing Support Group:

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