Have you ever considered the amount of junk with which we regularly fill our lives? The fast food and ready meals we grab when we’re tired or on the road, the unhealthy, sugar-filled drinks we take to give us a lift, the ‘must-have’, ‘such a bargain’ purchases that we didn’t really want or need and which take up so much space in our homes, the rubbish thoughts that deter us from feeling inclined to have a go.
We rarely feel satisfied or refreshed after going with these choices, so it’s no wonder that our sleep is affected too, as we wake up feeling that we’ve not slept long or well enough to be ready for the day ahead. Junk sleep is an understandable by-product of living in the modern world, especially when you reflect on how long we spend on our devices, even when we think of it as relaxing ‘me time’.
The term ‘junk sleep has had over 36 million views on Tik Tok and shows how concerned many of us are about the poor quality of our sleep, as we learn how important sleep is in processing what happens in our lives each day. The quality of our sleep helps us restore our brain and its ability to function properly the following day.
Let’s look at some ways to improve our quality of sleep and reduce the amount of restless, junk sleep we experience.
Establish a regular sleep routine, where you treat sleep as an important part of your commitment to yourself and your wellbeing. Your body gets used to doing certain things at certain times, so establishing a good sleep habit helps inform your body clock. Turn off your technology 30-60 minutes before bed and instead enjoy something relaxing like a bath or shower to wash away the day’s stresses.
Turn off your technology an hour before bed. According to the National Sleep Council 95% of people use their devices within an hour of bedtime. But doing so disrupts the body’s circadian rhythms, which in turn can lead to restless junk sleep. The blue light from your phone inhibits the brain from producing melatonin, the sleep hormone, leaving you feeling tired, irritable and unrefreshed.
Manage stress so that you minimise any issues occupying your mind. Keep a journal, to help process what’s happened in your day. Or write a list of all that needs to be done, so reassuring yourself that you don’t need to mentally hold onto those things; they’re readily accessible, on your ‘to do’ list.
Ensure you have sufficient mental and physical exercise. If you’ve a tiring physical job or one that’s mentally demanding, determine to exert yourself in ways to complement the missing physical or mental side of your life. Quizzes, crosswords, stimulating conversation can help exercise you mentally, whilst maybe an indoor treadmill, yoga or gym practice can exert you physically.
Get outdoors. A 2022 survey by Noom found that 20% of us let exercise levels fall by 37% in the winter months, blaming the cold weather and shorter days as we go into ‘hibernation mode’. Find positive ways to spend some time outdoors. Weekends, especially, can be used for a brisk country walk, followed by a sociable visit to a local hostelry or by having a delicious meal slowly cooking to enjoy on your return home.
Eat healthily. Find time to batch prepare soups, stews and casseroles and enjoy them on the days when you’re busy or have to eat late. Use each season’s offerings for your fruit and vegetables and enjoy the many colours and flavours that nature has to offer. Clean home cooking is a positive way to top up on vitamins, have good nutrition and stay healthy.
Declutter your bedroom. We all sleep better in a room that’s clear of mess, that’s free from technology and is the right temperature, not too warm. Screen off any work area and keep your bedroom as a place of calm, your haven free from mobile phones and those intermittent nudges to check in just one more time.
Learn to relax and take regular breaks. Read a book, listen to music, enjoy a creative hobby, a little yoga, spend time in the garden. And have some fun booked into your diary. Time with family and friends is an investment in those relationships and enhances your support network too.
Modern life can mean that we do sometimes need to quickly grab junk food, overindulge, or sleep fewer hours than we really ought, but this lifestyle can’t be sustained for too long if we want to maintain long term health and wellbeing. Sleep is an important way to support our ability to cope with stress and the demands of everyday life. By investing in good quality sleep you’re treating yourself with respect and protecting your best asset, yourself and your mind and body.
Susan Leigh, Altrincham, South Manchester Counsellor & Hypnotherapist www.lifestyletherapy.net