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The Four Pillars of Wellbeing – Week 4

The Four Pillars of Wellbeing

This final blog post on the 4 pillars has been left until last as it is the one pillar that cuts across the other 4 pillars with most regularity.

We live in a world where the harder we work and the more we work is often valued more than the quality of our work. What this can lead to is a macho culture and is typified by “I might be tired, but I’ll have a jug of coffee and soldier on through,” or another phrase I hear often “sleep is for wimps.”

Actually, this approach, whilst short term might allow a project to be completed or those reports to be written, is writing a cheque our health and wellbeing will need to pay at some stage in the future.

We’re now getting two hours less sleep on average than we did 60 years ago, and it is suggested that this costs the economy £40 billion per year. In scientific tests, sleep deprivation is described as more dangerous than alcohol consumption on reaction times and contributes hugely to road traffic accidents as reaction times are slowed. You will have seen the “don’t drive tired” signs on the motorway.

Scientists believe that when we sleep, brain cells shrink in size to allow gaps to open between our nerve cells which then allows the body to wash away waste products and create new nerve cells. It is even thought that this is the time when the protein which accumulates in the brains of Alzheimer’s sufferers is cleared out.

Sleep is really important. It increases your energy, leads to greater concentration, greater capacity for learning and making choices, improved immune system function, improves memory and life expectancy and incredibly, reduces stress and the risk of Alzheimer’s.

The notion that sleep bingeing through weekend lie ins will solve the problem is not true indeed migraine sufferers often complain that lie ins contribute to migraines.

Essentially, we have a life pattern and rhythm that has evolved over thousands of years and if we don’t heed these rhythms we can’t perform at our best or achieve the wellbeing we all seek.

It’s very difficult to know precisely how much sleep we all need but there are three questions you need to ask yourself to ascertain whether you are getting enough.

  • Do you wake up refreshed?
  • Do you wake up at roughly the same time each day without the need for an alarm?
  • Can you drop off to sleep within 30 minutes?

If the answer to these questions is yes, then you are probably getting the sleep you need. If not, then there are things that you can try, to improve your sleep.

  • Try to create absolute darkness at bedtime. Any light source will try to kid our brains that it’s time to wake up. Research even suggests that shining a light on the back of your knees can kid your brain that it is daytime. If you do need a light at night, then make it red light which helps to maintain sleep.
  • Make a conscious decision not to use a tablet or smartphone beyond 8:30pm as the blue light from these machines replicates daylight and can kid our brains that it isn’t time for sleep.
  • Reduce stress levels in the two hours before bed. This includes watching TV or going to sleep with the TV on. Getting wound up by Question Time at 11pm is not going to help you sleep. Similarly have a school rule of no sending emails after 8pm and no reading of them after 8. Sometimes when someone sends you an email to get something off their chest it winds you up and prevents you from sleeping. VW have a policy of no work emails beyond the length of your shift.
  • Keep caffeine products to mornings as they stay in your bloodstream for enough time to affect your sleep if drunk in the afternoon. Coffee kids your body into thinking it needs less sleep than it does which creates that “lift” but again we’re writing a cheque we’ll have to pay at some stage.

In a morning when we need to wake up and be alert then things like natural light are really important. Try to get outside for at least 15 minutes each morning. Even on a cloudy day the sunlight we receive is far greater than the artificial lights inside and we often go from an artificially lit house to a car to another artificially lit building at work. Researchers 6 years ago concluded that avoidance of natural light can put you at as much of a risk for ill health and mortality as being a smoker.

How much better if this access to natural light is a walk which helps to clear your mind and relax you. This approach combines more than one of our wellbeing pillars! 10,000 steps in a morning hits the exercise and sleep pillars!

Many people find that powernaps help them to achieve the sleep that they need. Again, this is a personal thing and if you find it helps, go for it. If it means you don’t sleep at night, then maybe it’s not for you.

Essentially, we all have a circadian rhythm and we need to embrace it.

Create a routine for waking yourself up and for going to bed and you will see the benefits in terms of better-quality sleep that will help to keep you healthy and happy!

Have improved health and wellbeing as a result of these blogs?

Please let me know and let’s share what works for us and continue the debate @andymellor64 on Twitter!