Guest Feature: Understanding Our Natural Sleep System

By Jessica White


Sleep is the strongest healing power that we have both mentally and physically, yet we invest minimal resources into improving or maintaining good sleep. Many of the ailments that we may suffer from can be helped with good sleep. And so it is our pleasure to introduce Collingwood local Jessica White to discuss our sleep system. Enjoy!


Understanding Our Natural Sleep System

Sleep is the foundation for our health and wellbeing. If we aren’t sleeping well we are more susceptible to illness, our bodies have a harder time healing from injuries and we can feel foggy, irritable, and anxious. Most importantly, a lack of sleep has a major impact on our mood, memory, productivity, and decision-making skills. It can also feel impossible to have the motivation to exercise or the discipline to make healthy food choices when we are sleep deprived. The Public Health Agency of Canada reports that “1 in 2 adults have trouble going to sleep or staying asleep” and that “1 in 5 adults do not find their sleep refreshing” (Canada, 2019).

Natural sleep and wake cycles are informed by two biological systems. The circadian clock determines the best timing of sleep, especially REM sleep and the timing of our alertness. It is driven by light so one strategy to strengthen your internal clock is to surround yourself with lots of natural light during the day, to get outside at least once, and to dim the lights at night. The second system is the sleep driver and it determines one’s ability to fall asleep easily and to stay asleep. Some strategies for building sleep pressure, or the sleep driver, are to get out of bed as soon as you wake up and to make sure you move your body every day. Movement is paramount to creating the right amount of sleep pressure to fall asleep easily and stay asleep. Even if the weather or an injury is preventing you from your normal active lifestyle, just doing laps around your house or apartment, or going up and down the stairs is sufficient. The recommended amount of time to move is only 20 minutes a day! When we experience sleep difficulties, it is the result of a precipitating factor impacting these two biological systems. This precipitating factor could be caring for aging parents or an ill partner, having young children, experiencing hormonal changes, anxiety, stress, or trauma. Experiencing sleep disruptions from these situations are normal. Everyone confronts a few bad nights here and there, perhaps even as much as once a month. It becomes a chronic sleep issue when it is happening a few times a week for a month or more. Chronic sleep issues develop in response to how an individual behaves to sleep disruptions. When we’ve had a string of ‘bad nights’, it is common to manage the fatigue during the day with coffee or to try and catch up on lost sleep by napping or going to bed early. A reliance on sleeping aids may develop or alternatively, we may lie in bed awake for hours on end, creating a negative sleep association between our brain and bed. Over time we start to think we are bad sleepers, and pretty soon our beliefs begin to inform our reality. In effect, it is these beliefs and coping strategies that negatively impact the biological systems that allow us to sleep naturally. All is not lost though. There are ways to reset your sleep cycle and improve your sleep quality. My top five tips for improving your sleep are as follows:

  1. Practice accepting that it is normal to have nights of imperfect sleep. The National Sleep Foundation recommends that adults get between 7-9 hours of sleep a night, however, everyone is different and you may be on the lower end of the range. HOW you feel in the morning is a better measure of your sleep quality than a number.

  2. Do NOT stay in bed awake – our brains are very associative and will quickly make a connection between wakefulness and the bed. Get out of bed if it has been longer than 20 minutes of lying awake and then only return to your bed when you feel sleepy.

  3. Go to bed at the same time every night and wake up around the same time, even on weekends.

  4. Instead of napping, try going for a walk or do a Yoga Nidra guided meditation for deep relaxation. It is natural to have a dip in energy in the early afternoon, but these activities will give you a boost, without compromising your sleep pressure.

  5. Keep your sleeping space calm, tidy, dark, and cool (18-20 °C). Your body needs to drop in temperature in order to sleep.

If you or anyone you know is struggling to sleep well or if your place of employment would like to schedule a lunch and learn seminar, you can email me at jess@jesswhitesleepsolutions.com or go to my website www.jesswhitesleepsolutions.com or you can find me on Instagram @jesswhitesleepsolutions or Facebook

 

About the Author: Jessica White

Jessica White is a local sleep educator who is devoted to helping others get better sleep. As an entrepreneur and mother of three, she understands how frustrating and exhausting sleep disruptions are for everyone, especially when they impact an individual’s ability to cope and manage. Through individual counselling sessions or group seminars, Jessica shares her knowledge of sleep science by clearly identifying the issues that are preventing individuals from achieving natural sleep. Evidence-based solutions, customized resources, and Jessica’s compassionate nature are the keys to her client’s success!


Jessica holds a BSc degree from the University of Victoria and a teaching degree from Simon Fraser University. She is a Certified Infant and Child Sleep Consultant, an Integrative Adult Sleep Coach and a member of the Association of Professional Sleep Consultants. Jessica also has a certificate in Maternal Mental Health and has attended professional advanced training in Cognitive Behavioral Therapy for Insomnia. She is currently working on her Masters of Arts in Counselling Psychology.