Sleep champions: Fourth and final week

Lisa Walsh is much happier with her sleeping patterns this week. Photograph: Brenda Fitzsimons

Lisa Walsh is much happier with her sleeping patterns this week. Photograph: Brenda Fitzsimons

Tue, Mar 4, 2014, 01:00

It’s the fourth and final week of the Sleep Challenge and things are looking up. “The champions are all beginning to identify lifestyle habits that interfere with sleep,” says Dr John Faul.

Lisa Walsh is much happier with her sleeping patterns this week. Her sleep has been better, and she has found that exercise and regular meals have helped.

Dr Johnny Walker advised her to listen to her body. Last week she had forced herself to power through exhaustion after a weekend of night shifts, but Walker advised her that taking a nap when she needed one would be a better approach. “I would always have seen that as being lazy,” Walsh says. “I practise mindfulness in other parts of my life and it made me realise that I need to apply that to my sleep. I need to listen to my body.”

There is one caveat to this advice, particularly for shift workers, however, as sometimes, a person can be exhausted and yet entirely unable to wind down. In these cases, according to Faul, sleeping tablets can be helpful.

“Tablets are also useful for periods of insomnia,” he says. “Their use is most helpful in subjects who need to get to sleep and who don’t have a sleep disorder such as sleep apnoea.”

Both Laura Gaynor and Holly Fawcett have reigned in their use of technology to good effect.

“Technology is a significant factor and there is an idea that the introduction of electricity and artificial light over the past 100 years has greatly eroded into quality sleep,” Faul says.

Fawcett’s busy lifestyle is still impeding on her ability to wind down but the fourth week of the challenge saw a definite improvement from her perspective.

“I realise that I need to repay sleep debt gradually,” she says. “Before I thought I could binge sleep at the weekend but it’s much more effective to make up the lost hours continuously over the week.”

Fawcett believes that the sleep challenge has allowed her to identify what has been going wrong. Some things, such as her hectic lifestyle, are difficult to change but the insight is helpful. “I think it will take a couple of weeks before I’m seeing a big improvement but I feel like things are definitely going in the right direction,” she says.

Gaynor’s progress continues and she is even tackling the tea addiction. “I went out at the weekend and I bought a box of decaf tea,” she says. “I have had only four cups of caffeinated tea since the weekend.” She is finding it easier to fall asleep and the early to bed and early to rise routine is suiting her. “I’m more organised,” she says. “If you stay up late doing an assignment, there’s a knock-on effect over the next few days. Doing things early in the morning just seems to work better for me.”

Changing her sleep habits has required commitment. “I think that’s the biggest realisation I’ve had,” says Gaynor. “I’ve learned not to take sleep for granted. A good sleep pattern takes effort.”

Faul agrees this is a key point. “All the sleep champions have changed their habits in order to improve their sleep quality,” he says. “Like eating a healthy diet, there’s always room for improvement, but making the effort is the most important step.”

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