Have you found your sleep pattern?

by Ezra Hewing | 16 May 2019

Staying well – we know we need the right diet and regular exercise. And we know we need the right amount of sleep. But why are so many of us struggling with poor sleeping patterns? Ezra Hewing, Head of Mental Health Education at Suffolk Mind explains more.

Finding the right sleep pattern

Are you or is somebody you know stuck in a bad sleep pattern? As any parent knows, trying to get small children into the habit of going to bed and waking up at the right time can be hard work – especially when parents are need of sleep too! Establishing regular going to bed and getting up time takes effort. And that’s because sleep patterns are a learnt behaviour – for children and adults.

We all need the right amount of sleep in a twenty-four hour period, about eight hours for the average adult and less as we get older. But the pattern of sleep can vary according to age and culture. So, as we know, people living in the Mediterranean may siesta in afternoon, sleeping for a couple of hours while it’s hot, and then stay up to eat and spend time with family and friends into the late evening.

The key point is that we have to get into good habits with the pattern of our sleep. This is especially if you’re a shift worker this can be especially difficult, when the time that you go to sleep, get up, eat, work and socialise will vary hugely from week to week. But it’s also a problem for all of us if we don’t have a good sleep pattern in place. So what can people do to change or cope with poor sleep patterns?

The best advice   

A study carried out with junior doctors and emergency medicine consultants, often working for twelve hour at a time and at high risk of sleep deprivation, came to the following conclusion: instead of trying to chase eight hours of sleep try to get blocks of ninety minutes good quality sleep.

Sleep cycles follow a pattern too. At the start and the beginning we will have a short period of REM sleep when dreaming occurs. Dreaming is involved with keeping us emotionally healthy, switching of emotions we have not acted upon during the previous day, and clearing away toxins and pruning unhelpful connections which may have formed in our brains. Between these phases of dream sleep, we drop into lighter and then deeper periods of sleep, allowing the brain to switch off and the body’s cells to repair. So instead of trying to get 8 hours – and feeling that we’re failing when we don’t – aim for blocks of 90 minutes of quality instead that make up 7 to 8 hours a day.

Book yourself a sleep date!

What can we do to get the best out of a ninety minute sleep cycle ever? Firstly, plan ahead. Look for opportunities in your diary when you can book yourself a refreshing sleep date. Book it in and make it a priority – say no to anybody arriving with last minute requests that conflict with your sleep date. You might like to agree with your partner that they will take any children or pets out during this time, so that your sleep date is uninterrupted. Make sure that you have a comfy place to lie down, free from light – use black out curtains and eye masks if you need to. Switch any phones or computers off at least thirty minutes before your sleep date and avoid drinking caffeinated drinks for a couple of hours beforehand too – but make yourself cocoa or a hot chocolate to relax you. If you have a favourite set of pyjamas, or some relaxing music you’d like to play in the background, bring those to the sleep date too! Most importantly of all, enjoy laying down and getting into the habit of having regular no pressure sleep dates, to give yourself the best chance of letting your mind and body unwind and repair itself. 

Help is at hand to get better sleep

For more information on how to meet your need for sleep, take a look at our resources hub for more blogs and support.

You can also sign up to become a Friend of Suffolk Mind, which gives you the opportunity to join our Sleep Well, Work Well workshop for free.

by Ezra Hewing

Ezra Hewing is Head of Education at Suffolk Mind and a Human Givens Therapist. Since joining Suffolk Mind in 2009, he has grown our busy workplace wellbeing service, training frontline mental health workers, doctors, nurses, substance abuse workers, members of the emergency services and heads of organisations, amongst others, in how best to understand and support emotionally healthy workplaces. He holds an MSc in the psychology and neuroscience of mental health from the internationally renowned Institute of Psychology, Psychiatry and Neuroscience, King’s College, London, where he researched REM sleep and mental ill health, with a focus on the symptoms of schizophrenia.

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