December 8, 2021
During times of stress such as the pandemic, sleep is usually the first thing that is disrupted. Simon Edmonds and Holly Jackson who work at How to Sleep, a team of sleep enthusiasts, share tips to a good night’s sleep and provide insight on how to manage insomnia.
Social care managers understand how important adequate sleep is for physical health and mental wellbeing. Consistent loss of sleep diminishes mood and increases irritability. It also dulls attention, and this is critical since lapses may lead to errors in critical tasks. The loss of sleep and sleep quality leads to physical symptoms including body aches and compromises the immune system, thus increasing vulnerability to disease.
Tossing and turning. Being unable to switch off. Struggling to get restful sleep. We’ve all been there. Not being able to drift off and stay asleep can be so frustrating. It affects you into the next day too, as most people find it hard to function on limited sleep.
But imagine if this happened night after night. For some people, this is a reality. According to the NHS, insomnia means you regularly have problems sleeping. This could be difficulties falling asleep, staying asleep or a combination of both.
More recently, more than half the UK population has been struggling with sleep during the coronavirus pandemic, according to King’s College London. While for some of those surveyed, the lockdown and change of lifestyle has been a chance to ‘rediscover the importance of sleep’, nearly two thirds of the public reported some negative impact on their sleep.
Of course, this shows how unsettling the pandemic has been for people. But the researchers also suggested that a lack of sleep may have a knock-on impact on people’s capacity to be resilient during the pandemic.
According to the NHS, the most common causes of insomnia are stress, anxiety or depression, noise, a room that’s too hot or cold, uncomfortable beds, alcohol, caffeine or nicotine, recreational drugs like cocaine or ecstasy, jet lag and shift work. But illnesses and the medicines for these illnesses can also cause insomnia, including mental health conditions, such as schizophrenia or bipolar disorder, Alzheimer’s disease or Parkinson’s disease, restless legs syndrome and overactive thyroid.
Not everyone’s experience of insomnia will be the same. It can be nice to speak to other people who struggle with sleep, but it can also be frustrating to receive advice which you know hasn’t worked for you.
That’s why it’s important to understand the different types of insomnia:
- Acute insomnia – Typically caused by a life event, such as grief or work-related changes, acute insomnia describes any brief period of difficulty sleeping.
- Chronic insomnia – Anyone who has a long-standing history of difficulty sleeping could have chronic insomnia. It’s any long-term pattern of problems falling or staying asleep.
- Comorbid insomnia – If your insomnia occurs with another condition, it’s described as comorbid insomnia. For example, depression or anxiety. The term could be used to describe insomnia that’s a symptom or results from another illness, or if insomnia causes or worsens another condition.
- Onset insomnia – When you have difficulty falling asleep at night.
- Maintenance insomnia – When you have difficulty staying asleep throughout the night.
Ignoring the signs of sleep deprivation is dangerous. While the occasional sleepless night may make you irritable and tired, the effects of several sleepless nights get worse and threaten your health. According to the NHS, you’ll start to feel your brain getting foggy, and it’ll become difficult to concentrate or make decisions. As a result, your risk of injury and accidents increases.
Further down the line and with more limited sleep, your overall health can be affected. A lack of sleep can even make you prone to medical conditions, such as obesity, heart disease, high blood pressure and diabetes.
Other potential effects of a prolonged lack of sleep on your health and wellbeing include:
- A weakened immune system.
- The likelihood of catching more colds and coughs, as a lack of sleep disrupts your immune system.
- Bring prone to weight gain.
- Reduced levels of leptin (the chemical that makes you feel full) and increased levels of ghrelin (the hormone that makes you feel hungry).
- A loss of libido.
Taking time for you to get adequate sleep means you can better protect yourself, your clients and your team. To help you get the rest that you need as a social care manager, here are some helpful tips:
- Synchronise your body clock by exposing yourself to sunlight – Get some sun in the morning via outdoor exercise or by walking. Exercise helps sleep and your body’s fight-or-flight dynamics naturally rise in the morning as part of your normal circadian rhythm.
- It’s important to set a routine – Try to set a consistent wake and bed time as much as possible. If you have a sleepless night, don’t get longer sleep on the next day so that, the following night, you will be tired and you’ll fall back into your rhythm. Fighting this can lead to a vicious cycle. Avoid napping – this can interfere with your ability to return to a normal rhythm.
- Stay away from caffeine during evenings – This is to prevent caffeine from interfering with your sleep cycle. If you really need coffee, limit yourself to three cups a day. Besides, there is barely any additional benefit beyond three cups. It also helps to avoid eating heavy meals and consuming alcohol before bedtime.
- Limit gadget screen time in the evening – The blue light from our electronics sends a signal to our brain to stay awake.
- Turn the face of your clock away from your bed – This might sound counterintuitive but seeing the time may actually worsen your stress and disrupt your sleep. To make sure that you won’t miss your alarm, set two alarms. Avoid using the snooze button and then get up when you really need to get up.
- Make your bedroom only for sleep – Although it’s tempting to read the news or even check emails while in bed, just don’t.
- Find yourself sleepy during the workday and having trouble concentrating on tasks? Stand up – Standing up makes our bodies alert. Also, it goes without saying that you should never drive if you are sleepy or drowsy.
- If you really need to do shift work, try to stay on one shift a little bit longer – This is because our bodies adjust by approximately one time zone a day. If you are on a rotating shift, as much as possible try to make sure that your shift rotates forwards clockwise.
Following these tips can give you a head start down the path to better sleep, so you can maintain a high standard of work as a social care professional.
Sleep resources to help you
- “The Complete Guide to Insomnia – and How You Can Manage It.” – howtosleep.co.uk/guides/the-complete-guide-to-insomnia
- The Surrey Sleep Research Centre (SSRC) is home to multidisciplinary approaches to pre-clinical and clinical sleep research, using a wide range of state-of-the-art equipment to monitor, record and analyse sleep patterns and sleep disorders. The university welcomes volunteers to participate in clinical trials to help with their research, https://www.surrey.ac.uk/surrey-sleep-research-centre
- The sleep charity offers advice, education or support for children, teenagers, adults, workplaces or professionals. The charity shares expert knowledge, resources and accredited training. https://thesleepcharity.org.uk/
- The sleepstation provides resources to help www.sleepstation.org.uk/articles/
- Apps to help you sleep: Calm, Headspace, My Pillow, Pzizz Pzizz.
- Mental Health Foundation discusses sleep and our mental health and taking it seriously, https://www.mentalhealth.org.uk/our-work/research/sleep-and-mental-health-uk
- For guides and further information, visit www.howtosleep.co.uk