Our wellness journeys are usually focused on what we eat, how we move and what we think, but it is fair to say these conscious choices are often limited to daylight hours only. When we climb into bed at the end of the day, we expect that sleep will come and don’t really think about the kind of sleep that we are getting.
I have often heard people say that sleep is overrated. I think that as a whole, we take sleep for granted. It is something that we have all done from the day we were born and will continue to do for the rest of our lives. It is only when we go without sleep that we recognize how important this activity is for our physical and mental health.
From quick cat naps to a full eight hours, our sleep experiences can vary. The National Sleep Foundation recommends between 7 – 9 hours of shut-eye a night for those aged between 16 and 64. However, in reality, this can fluctuate greatly, thanks to a number of factors. We’ve all had those nights where we are up because of illness or worry, and it doesn’t take too long before the effects of the sleep deprivation are felt.
Why? Sleep is when our body works on repairing itself, particularly the heart and blood vessels. Hormones are regulated, and the immune system is boosted. And it is only once we reach the later stages of sleep that the body can begin to restore and refresh.
Here’s a quick look at said sleep stages, and the effect each has on our body.
Stage 1 This is the transition period, when you go from being awake to sleeping. The body becomes more relaxed, and the breathing, regular.
Stage 2 At this stage, the body is heading towards a deeper sleep. The average adult will normally spend about 30 minutes in this stage. This is sleep from which you could still be easily woken.
Stage 3 & 4 By the time you reach stage 3, and, ultimately, 4, the body becomes very relaxed. The breathing is slow and regular, as is the heartbeat. This is when the body will start to repair itself. The average adult will normally spend approximately 7% of sleep in stage 3, and an additional 11% in stage 4.
REM sleep is our active period of sleep. (Yes, you can be active while still sleeping – who knew?) During the course of a night, those who sleep soundly will visit the REM stage of sleep every 90 minutes (on average). This is when dreaming occurs, before the pattern ultimately starts to reverse and the sleeper transitions back to stage 1. A normal night’s sleep will see the majority of people remaining in stage 1 and 2. With most of the magic happening in stages 3 and 4 though, how can you give your body the best chance at good, restorative sleep? Especially on those nights when counting sheep just doesn’t cut it, and your thoughts are tumbling around your head like clothes in a dryer?
How about a bedtime story?
Yep, I did say bedtime story.
It is fair to say that I have been going through a pretty stressful time lately. To say that my sleep has suffered is an understatement. Night after night, I found myself crawling into bed, only to have all my worst fears come tumbling right into my head. I could not switch off, and, despite trying my usual deep breathing and meditation, sleep eluded me. This sleep deprivation eventually began to affect my waking hours, meaning I needed a solution.
I decided to try out Calm’s Sleep Stories
I am already a huge fan of the online meditation app Calm: I enjoy their guided, 10-minute daily meditations, and I try their 7 or 21-day programs on occasion. But recently, I have become hooked on their bedtime stories for adults.
Their claim is that the stories help the mind to unwind and power down, to transition to a state of calm, and, ultimately, sleep. If you cast your mind back to your childhood, being read to at bedtime induced feelings of comfort, relaxation, peace and tranquillity. It is these feelings that Calm tries to recreate through these stories, and, in doing so, promotes a natural cure for insomnia and achieve deep sleep.
You can choose from a library of stories (non-fiction or fiction) fiction, each one lasting from 10 to 40 minutes. Some stories are shortened versions of classics, like Sleeping Beauty, A Midsummer Night’s Dream and The Wind in the Willows, while others take you on journeys to Machu Picchu or Scotland’s Hidden Hideaways. There are a number of storytellers, too, such as Stephen Fry and Jerome Flynn, with voices that gently coax you to sleep.
Each story begins by encouraging the listener to snuggle down and take some deep, relaxing breaths. As the story progresses, the voice of the storyteller becomes slower, and quieter, allowing the listener to drift off to sleep naturally.
The sleep music is set to 432Hz, which is said to be the optimum frequency for meditation and relaxation.
Both my husband and I have been listening to these sleep stories for the past few weeks, and, to date, we have yet to hear a story through to the end. Not only are we fast asleep before the story finishes, but we are also hard pushed the next morning to remember what we were even listening to in the first place. Our sleep has definitely improved, and I put this down to the fact that when I am actively listening to the story, this does not give my mind the chance to regurgitate thoughts and rehash worries.
So, rather than lying awake and trying to count those pesky sheep, take a page from childhood and opt for a snooze-inducing bedtime story instead.
The app can be downloaded from the App Store or from Google Play.
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