On Sleep

It is imperative that we look after ourselves and our bodies and make sure we have enough sleep each night to function properly the next day. But did you know that the more ideas or assumptions we have about sleep the more likely it is to affect the quality of sleep we actually get? For example, someone who believes they can only function on eight hours sleep or more per night probably won’t get enough sleep due to worrying and watching the clock when they wake!

This fascinating information and more has been studied at Harvard University and written up in this article.

Here are nine ways we can improve our quality of sleep each night (adapted from the same article):

  • Stay away from stimulants. Avoid caffeinated beverages (coffee, many teas, chocolate, and some soft drinks) after 1 or 2 p.m. — or altogether, if you’re especially caffeine-sensitive. Caffeine blocks the effects of adenosine, a brain chemical thought to promote sleep.
  • If you need to, take a 15- to 20-minute nap just after noontime — that’s usually long enough to improve alertness but not so long that you feel groggy afterward. Don’t nap at all in the evening.
  • Exercise. Getting regular aerobic exercise such as walking, jogging, or swimming can help you fall asleep faster, get more deep sleep, and awaken less often during the night.
  • Set a sleep schedule. A regular sleep schedule helps synchronize your sleep/wake cycle. Once you determine how much time in bed you need, go to bed each night and get up each morning at the same time.
  • Make your bedroom a sleep sanctuary. Reserve it for sleep, intimacy, and restful activities such as meditation and reading for pleasure. Keep it cool, dark, and quiet. To block out noises, consider using a fan or another appliance that produces a steady “white noise.”. Make sure your mattress is comfortable.
  • Eat sensibly. Finish dinner several hours before bedtime. If you need a snack in the evening, eat a small serving of something you know won’t disturb your digestion, such as yogurt, cereal and milk, or toast and jam.
  • Don’t watch the clock. Watching the sleepless minutes pass makes it harder to fall back to sleep in the wee hours. Turn the clock face so you can’t see it.
  • Establish a relaxing routine before bedtime. Consider meditation, a warm shower or some simple stretches to loosen muscles. If you’re muslim, it can help to save your evening ‘witr’ to pray just before bedtime. Avoid activities that might cause stress, such as work or emotional discussions.
  • Limit fluids before bedtime. To minimize nighttime trips to the bathroom, don’t drink anything during the two or three hours before bedtime.

What happens if I don’t sleep?
Everyone’s experienced the fatigue, short temper and lack of focus that often follow a poor night’s sleep. An occasional night without sleep makes you feel tired and irritable the next day, but it won’t harm your health.

After several sleepless nights, the mental effects become more serious. Your brain will fog, making it difficult to concentrate and make decisions. You’ll start to feel down, and may fall asleep during the day. Your risk of injury and accidents at home, work and on the road also increases.

If it continues, lack of sleep can affect your overall health and make you prone to serious medical conditions, such as obesity, heart disease, high blood pressure and diabetes.

Here are seven ways in which a good night’s sleep can boost your health:
1. Sleep boosts immunity
If you seem to catch every cold and flu that’s going around, your bedtime could be to blame. Prolonged lack of sleep can disrupt your immune system, so you’re less able to fend off bugs.
2. Sleep can slim you
Sleeping less may mean you put on weight! Studies have shown that people who sleep less than seven hours a day tend to gain more weight and have a higher risk of becoming obese than those who get seven hours of slumber.
It’s believed to be because sleep-deprived people have reduced levels of leptin (the chemical that makes you feel full) and increased levels of ghrelin (the hunger-stimulating hormone).
3. Sleep boosts mental wellbeing
Given that a single sleepless night can make you irritable and moody the following day, it’s not surprising that chronic sleep debt may lead to long-term mood disorders like depression and anxiety.
When people with anxiety or depression were surveyed to calculate their sleeping habits, it turned out that most of them slept for less than six hours a night.
4. Sleep prevents diabetes
Studies have suggested that people who usually sleep less than five hours a night have an increased risk of having or developing diabetes.
It seems that missing out on deep sleep may lead to type 2 diabetes by changing the way the body processes glucose – the high-energy carbohydrate that cells use for fuel.
5. Sleep increases sex drive
Men and women who don’t get enough quality sleep have lower libidos and less of an interest in sex, research shows.
Men who suffer from sleep apnoea – a disorder in which breathing difficulties lead to interrupted sleep – also tend to have lower testosterone levels, which can lower libido.
6. Sleep wards off heart disease
Long-standing sleep deprivation seems to be associated with increased heart rate, an increase in blood pressure and higher levels of certain chemicals linked with inflammation, which may put extra strain on your heart.
7. Sleep increases fertility
Difficulty conceiving a baby has been claimed as one of the effects of sleep deprivation, in both men and women. Apparently, regular sleep disruptions can cause trouble conceiving by reducing the secretion of reproductive hormones.

These were adapted from this article from the NHS website.

SLEEPING WITH A BABY

I highly recommend the book ‘Three in a bed’ by Deborah Jackson. A summary of the book follows:

Only since Victorian times has it been standard practice for mothers and fathers to send their babies to sleep alone, away from the parental bed – often in another room. This book reveals how babies who sleep with their parents benefit by getting virtually a fullnight’s sleep. The author explains the advantages of this radical form of baby care, including its benefits for breastfeeding mothers, reviews the history of babies in the bed and, through interviews with parents, explores attitudes to the idea. The book also contains a fresh perspective on the tragedy of cot death, as well as practical advice on how to sustain your sex life, hints on safety in the bed and answers to all the common objections. Finally, the author deals with the moment when the baby leaves its parents’ bed.

The idea that co-sleeping is inherently dangerous for babies is an urban myth. Generations of parents have been made to feel guilty if they cuddle up to their children at night, even though they may get more sleep; breastfeeding is easier; crying rates are drastically reduced; babies breathe more steadily; sleep hormones are stimulated; baby’s core temperature is regulated by skin-to-skin contact; parental confidence is boosted and it becomes possible to react swiftly in a crisis. We feel guilty even though cot-death is unheard of in cotless cultures from Africa to Asia and South America, while thousands of American and some 200 British babies still die every year from Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (Sids).

Needless to say, I totally believe that not only is it safe to sleep with one’s baby, it’s a must if you both want to get a full night’s sleep.

WAKING UP JUST BEFORE DAWN

Apparently it’s quite a common phenomena as one gets older, to spontaneously wake up in the early hours every morning. I know somebody very wise who studies Arabic at this precise time every day. It is a time for quiet solitude, reflection and certainly if you’re muslim, a special time for connectedness with your Creator. In fact, muslims believe that, even though God doesn’t exist in ‘time’ and ‘space’, rather He is the Creator of these things, this time is when He

…descends to the lowermost heaven and says; “Who is calling Me, so that I may answer him? Who is asking Me so that may I grant him? Who is seeking forgiveness from Me so that I may forgive him?.”‘

There are two ways to interpret this saying. These are:

1] His mercy, command and angels descend; (just as we can say in English ‘the King made this town’, i.e. he commissioned for the town to be made, though the workers were the ones who actually did the job)
[2] It is a metaphor for His gentleness to those making supplication (i.e. at that time of night) and His answering them.

It is reported that the Messenger was asked, “What prayer is most virtuous, after the five daily prayers?” He said, “Prayer in the depths of the night.”

Read more at the excellent website seekershub.

Night prayer is superior to day prayer because:

  • It is more concealed and closer to sincerity. The early muslims used to strive hard to hide their secrets [meaning the actions between them and God]. A well-known wise man Hasan [al-Basri] said, ‘It used to be that a person would have guests staying over and he would pray at night without his guests knowing.’
  • Night prayer is harder on the lower self, because night is a time of rest from the tire of day, so leaving sleep despite the lower self being desirous of it is a tremendous struggle. Some have said, ‘The best of works are those the lower self is forced to perform.’
  • Recitation in night prayer is closer to contemplation, because things that usually busy the heart in the daytime are mostly absent at night, so the heart is at attention and is with the tongue in understanding.
  • Night vigil time is the best of times for voluntary worship and prayer, and the closest a servant is to his Lord.
  • It is a time when the doors of the sky are opened, supplications answered, and the needs of those who ask fulfilled.

The Almighty has praised those who wake up at night for His remembrance, supplication, and to seek forgiveness and entreat Him, saying, ‘They forsake their beds to cry unto their Lord in fear and hope, and spend of what We have bestowed on them. No soul knows what is kept hid from them of joy, as a reward for what they used to do.’ (32: 16-17)

The upshot is that there are many many reasons why a full night’s sleep, around eight hours, is important for the body and mind. However, if you do find yourself awake in the middle of the night don’t stress. Use this unique beautiful time for reflection and love to feed your soul. And make up for the lost time in an afternoon nap.

As Rumi said

Have you got any more tips on how to increase restfulness? When’s the last time you reaped the benefits of a good night’s sleep? Do you prioritise sleep and see it as a form of self-care? Do share your thoughts below!

Until next time then,

Peace and love,

Sidra Ansari ❤

PS To help me on my journey to enoughism I will write down 3 things I am grateful for at the end of each post. These are:

  1. Sleeping with my babies!  Having read the above mentioned book over 12 years ago now, I’ve always been an advocate of co-sleeping, or sleeping with the baby.  I am very grateful to report that after the first few weeks of twilight feeding and nappy-changing, the babies’ antics haven’t managed to wake me up (much!) in the first few years of their lives. Of course, the decision to breastfeed made this easier but I have seen bottle-fed babies sleep more soundly due to co-sleeping too. (Rather than venture downstairs at night, the mother would keep hot water in a flask by her bed and then mix it up with formula to feed the baby when he woke).
  2. Mr Chef and Mr Biryani used to wake up at 6.30am every morning for a few years so, more often than not, I managed an energising afternoon nap when my children were all young. Therefore the second thing I’m grateful for this week are cosy afternoon naps!
  3. The library.  Today I took my third trip to the library these holidays and I’m so grateful for the free books! (hehe) and the fantastic escapism a room full of books represents to the children.  We also managed a visit to Birmingham Central Library, which I hadn’t even been in properly since the refurbishment, and spent an afternoon there.  Loved it. There’s something about the vast amount of knowledge literally at our fingertips in there that inspires awe and wonder. May we all be a people who take our children to libraries. Ameen.

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