Archive for January 31, 2012

Sleep and Stress: Sleeping the Night before a Job Interview (or other big, important event)

Today I had a job interview. It was the first for me in many years. I usually do pretty well in job interviews, but I still get nervous beforehand. They are very stressful! I found out back in December that my “position is being eliminated”, so I consider this to be the first of potentially many such interviews over the coming weeks and months.

 

When interviewing for a job, of course you want to be at your best. You want to be prepared to answer all those questions, you want to be able to express yourself clearly, you want to know about the job for which you are applying, and so on. Another key part of good preparation is to be well rested. This can be a challenge. Sleep and stress don’t tend to mix that well. The butterflies that spring up don’t usually wait until right before the interview, but may start days beforehand. This can make sleep a challenge the night before, when it is most important.

Now, I am no stranger to the struggles of trying to sleep the night before a big event. I am a runner and a marathoner, and I always get a bit nervous before these stressful events, especially the marathons. In fact, marathons can make me feel a little anxious as much as a week beforehand. Also, a couple times a year I have to teach a forty minute lecture to over 200 people. And, there are other momentous (stressful) events that come up throughout any given year that can make sleep difficult. So, over the years I’ve developed a few tricks that help me to get through the nervousness, and I’m happy to report that last night I was able to sleep reasonably well. How was I able to do it?

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What Happens While We Sleep

Although I’ve already written a brief post on the sleep cycle there was a lot more that could be said on the subject. I believe it is helpful to understand how we sleep, as all other information about how to improve sleep must be based on it.

 

There are two major types of sleep: Non-REM, or quiet sleep; and REM, or dreaming sleep. REM, you may recall, stands for ‘rapid eye movement’ and refers to the rapid movements the eyes make while in that stage of sleep.

These two types, or categories, of sleep are radically different from one another. It is a common misconception that when we are asleep our minds and bodies are simply ‘turned off’, and when we are awake they are ‘turned on’. In reality sleep is not so passive as you may think. Our bodies, and especially our minds are busy during sleep, and they are busy doing things that they only do while asleep – things that are necessary for health and growth.

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Sleep Deprivation May be More Harmful than You Think

You know that kid in school who always asked detailed questions about what was required for the assignment? They wanted the teacher to tell them the least they had to do to get a passing grade. They also wanted to know how much impact that test/quiz/assignment/book report/oral report/etc. would have on their grade, so they could blow it off if it was a small assignment.

 

Many times we have a similar attitude when it comes to sleep. How little sleep can I get by on and still have a decent day? How big a deal is it if I stay up all night before a big test? Does it really matter if I consistently get less than ideal sleep?

I think most of us are aware that when we suffer through a long sleepless night of tossing and turning that we will not feel too great the next day. There are immediate consequences. However, our attitude about these may be that these consequences are just minor, surface concerns – fatigue, irritability, sore muscles and joints, stomach distress. But how important are these? And are there other concerns that are more significant? Are there any long-term health problems related to poor sleep?

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I Can’t Sleep – Common Causes of Sleep Troubles

We all go through times in our lives where sleep is difficult to come by. For most of us, these are sporadic and can often be linked to some specific circumstance of our life, such as trouble at work or with children, or a big event that is coming up.

Unfortunately, a significant number of people suffer longer-term or chronic trouble sleeping. Most people, when they struggle with the inability to get to sleep, regard the issue as insomnia. In truth, there are several different sleep disorders any of which could be the culprit.

Trouble Falling Asleep

Paradoxical Insomnia

The medical term for having trouble getting to sleep is ‘sleep latency’. There is somewhat of a misconception about sleep latency, and many people believe they have insomnia when, in truth they fall asleep in a normal amount of time. The typical adult takes between sixteen and 20 minutes to fall asleep.

It is also common for people to misjudge how long it takes them to get to sleep. These people believe they are lying awake for hours or are waking up repeatedly throughout the night when in reality their sleep latency falls within normal parameters. This type of insomnia is referred to as ‘paradoxical insomnia’ because it is not true insomnia, but only a misconception of reality.

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Thursday Sleep Tip: Need Another Reason to Exercise – How about Better Sleep?

Person SwimmingIf you add regular exercise to your life you can expect to see an improvement in your sleep in a number of ways.

  1. You will fall asleep faster
  2. A greater percentage of your sleep will be in the deep sleep stages
  3. You will wake up less frequently during the night

Exercise is particularly valuable for older people, as the benefits all counteract the negative effects of aging on sleep. Physically fit older men fall asleep in less than half the time of their sedentary counterparts.

A study at the University of Washington found that even those who already sleep normally benefit from adding exercise. Test subjects saw an increase in the amount of time spent in deep sleep when they added aerobic exercise a few times a week.

Why Does Exercise Benefit Sleep?

No one is really sure of the exact reasons why exercise has such a significant impact on sleep. There are probably a number of factors, which include:

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LED Lights May Help You Sleep Better

LED ControllerSome people love them for their energy efficiency and long-lasting usefulness. Others hate them for their higher cost, bright harshness that differs from incandescent bulbs, or the belief that LEDs are part of a government plot (to do what, I’m not sure).

LED Lights have been around for years, but they have become much more prominent in the last few years. Originally they were used mostly in electronics. More recently they have popped up in Christmas lights, flashlights and a number of household items.

Now there may be another, unexpected use for LED lights – they may help you to sleep better! How can this be?

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Alcohol and Sleep Don’t Mix

Glass of WineAre you surprised by the title of this article? Most people probably are. After all, isn’t alcohol a depressant, and doesn’t it lead to drowsiness? Aren’t there countless examples of anecdotal evidence of a drink of wine before bed leading to a good night of sleep? Maybe so, but the thing is anecdotal evidence doesn’t constitute scientific proof.

Anecdotal vs Scientific Evidence

The basis of science is observation of what happens in nature. ‘Anecdotal’ evidence refers to evidence based on personal experiences, which would seem to fit into the scientific model. You do something, observe the results and form conclusions. The difference between anecdotal evidence and true scientific evidence, however, is that scientific evidence has to be measurable, testable and repeatable.

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Thursday Sleep Tip: The Weekend Sleep Schedule

Picture this scenario. It’s the weekend. You’ve been working hard all week, getting up early, getting to bed early the next night so you can start over the next morning. Now you want to live a little. Nothing to get up early for tomorrow, so no reason to go to bed early tonight. And so, you do what millions of people do every week and you celebrate the weekend.

What you’re really celebrating is freedom. Freedom from that annoying alarm clock that seems to be governing your whole day. It forces you to get up when you don’t want to, so you have to go to bed earlier than you want to, so you don’t get to enjoy the evening activities you want to, like the late night TV or a movie (yeah I know, I live wild). Or maybe you do stay up late one night during the week, but the alarm clock makes you pay for it the next day. Man I hate that alarm clock!

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Napping: It Isn’t Just for Kids

I don’t generally feel anything until noon; then it’s time for my nap.
Bob Hope

Sometimes you just can’t help it. You may be in an important meeting, or driving, or watching a football game. Suddenly your eyes become heavy. You feel warm and a little light headed. You notice that you’re having trouble concentrating. Then the head begins to bob, and before you know it you are nodding off. You’ve just been nap-attacked!

The public opinion about napping has varied over time and from culture to culture. Some societies, particularly those in warmer climates, have celebrated napping and even schedule afternoon ‘siestas’ into the regular work day. In most office environments taking a nap during work, especially in meetings, is usually frowned upon.

If you feel the urge to sleep in the middle of the day what should you do? Should you fight the urge and try to work through it? Should you load up on caffeine? Should you switch activities to try to keep the mind and body awake? Or should you give into the nap?

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The Effects of Poor Sleep

Most of us have experienced poor sleep at one time or another. OK, who am I kidding? All of us have. If you regularly fail to get good sleep, you are not alone. Have you ever wondered what the impact of poor sleep is? Does it really matter much, other than being a little cranky the next morning?

The Prevalence of Poor Sleep

Sleep disorders and problems affected 75% of adults, according to a 2005 survey by the National Sleep Foundation (NSF), and 54% experienced at least one symptom of insomnia.

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