By Melanie C. Schlatter, PhD. Consultant
Health Psychologist, HEALTH PSYCHOLOGY
UAE, Sleep Matters Ambassador
Given the high prevalence of anxiety and depressive disorders, it is crucial to examine sleep, as an important factor of consideration in overall, optimal well-being. Indeed, when a person states that they have difficulty falling asleep, or staying asleep, we investigate the underlying reasons, because it is known that a lack of regular, high quality sleep, can contribute to further psychological, physical, and cognitive decline. We must also be realistic though, because monophasic sleep (sleeping once per day, continuously, for 79- hours) is simply not possible for some members of the population, and if anything, the mere knowledge that one has been up or awake several times during the night, may cause unnecessary stress. As such, we work towards what is sensible and realistic for each individual. Groups of people at higher risk of sleep deprivation are obviously those with chronic stress and those working overtime; those who are overweight or who suffer from sleep apnoea (when breathing pauses or becomes shallow) or other sleep disorders; elderly people, pregnant women, or those with medical conditions which necessitate going to the bathroom during the night; pregnant women or parents of young babies who wake during the night due to moving / waking of the infant; travelers, and nightshift workers. In addition to basic stress management (eg- healthy diet and exercise; relaxation techniques, and cognitive therapy– including problem solving for the issues the individual is worried about) key elements of sleep hygiene (conditions necessary for sleeping well) are often suggested.
• Reduction or elimination of caffeine, sugar, and stimulants (such as energy drinks and sweet foods) and alcohol, particularly in the latter stages of the day.
• Reduction of fluids before bedtime to minimize the need to go to the bathroom during the night.
• Lighter meals in the afternoon and evening (eg- not going to sleep on a full stomach).
• A well ventilated, quiet, dark room with no electronic equipment. We emphasize avoiding looking at cellphones and reading / responding to messages and so forth; no television; and no other distractions (animals on the bed; using the bed as one’s work space etc).
• Having a wind-down routine prior to bedtime–for example, no work for 1 hour prior to sleeping, and perhaps taking a warm bath or shower and turning down the lights.
• Having a sleep schedule where possible – waking and rising at the same time each day. It is also known that one weekend of ‘catchup’ sleep is not always enough to offset the impact of a week without adequate and / or consistent sleep; short naps during the day after may be required.
• Extras such as essential oils or a spray of lavender mist on the pillow, sound modifiers with white noise, and earplugs, may also be suggested.