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How to Sleep Well & Conquer Stress with Dr Punam Krishan

Updated 12 February, 2018

Hi, I'm Doctor Punam Krishna, aka the visionary medic.

I am working with Push Doctor and taking over their Instagram story to share with you my New Year's resolutions.

I'm going to start off by telling you a little bit about how sleep became an area of interest for me over the last few years, and why I chose this to be my focus for my New Year's resolutions this year.

Over the years, I have made some incredible life choices. I became a doctor and I became a mum. Both these roles, although they’ve been very challenging, have been exceptionally rewarding, but they’ve been extremely tiring.

My days as a full time doctor were very long, they were physically, emotionally, mentally charged and also while trying to be the best mum and a balanced human being, all this put a lot of pressure on me.

So, much like many professionals and parents, to try and fit absolutely everything in, something had to go. That something, obviously, was sleep, and whilst this was a quick fix in the short term, in the longer term it had some adverse effects on my health.

I was grumpy, I was stressed all the time, I was definitely not performing at optimum level, I was run down, catching everything that was going, and I totally related to all those patients that came in and went ‘I'm tired all the time,’

The ironic thing was that I was rigid about one thing, and that was my son's bedtime routine which I had created. I would give him an early dinner, he would have a nice bath, he would get a book, it would be nice and quiet and dark and he went to bed at the same time every night.

After he'd drifted off to the land of nod, I’d be scurrying around the house trying to clean up and finish off my work emails or whatever, and then wondering why I couldn't switch off or go to sleep.

This is a recipe for disaster. It's the recipe for burnout, it's a recipe for a disease, it's a recipe for chronic illness and it's not sustainable.

So yes, chronic sleep deprivation is a silent killer and it has huge adverse effects on our long term health and wellbeing. So if you want a happier, healthier, longer life, work on sleep.

So a quick few facts about what happens to us when we sleep. When we sleep, it's the only chance our body gets to repair itself. Our brain gets a chance to organise, to process, to reflect and store things that have happened to us that day.

So whilst we're actually sleeping, our body is super busy, there's all sorts of hormones being released, one of them being a growth hormone, which goes up, and this is essential for repairing, for helping cognitive functioning, memory.

During sleep, our melatonin hormone levels rise and this hormone is very important for regulating or biological 24-hour clock, known as our circadian rhythm.

Another critical hormone is our stress hormone, cortisol, which deepens when we go to sleep and this is important because it regulates a whole lot of different systems in the body.

So sleeping well keeps our cortisol levels in check, which in turn has an impact on our metabolism via the thyroid hormones, our blood sugar levels via our insulin levels, and also our sex hormones.

Sleep deprivation also stimulates our appetite and increases food cravings. So those who sleep less than six hours at night are thirty percent more likely to develop obesity compared to those who have seven to nine hours of sleep.

What's incredible is that our body is designed, our immune system is designed, to repair itself when we sleep and one night of sleep deprivation essentially triggers an inflammatory response, which is responsible for so many different health conditions.

Gosh, this is getting quite depressing isn't it? I think we all get the gist that sleep is incredibly important for our health, so what I want to do just now is share with you some tips and hacks about a better sleep hygiene.

So the key is preparation. My mum taught me this growing up and I pass this mantra on to my son, because it's essential to sleep hygiene and that is that a messy bed equals a messy head. Declutter your room, make it somewhere you want to come back to.

I'm a creature of habit, I love a cup of hot milk at night, I love a good candle and I love this Arran lavender and spearmint mist. My husband hates it, but it helps me sleep so he just has to live with it.

As much as it sounds really basic, it's all about sleeping in a dark room, so invest in some blackout blinds or blackout curtains, there are a lot of different styles out there all on trend and really worth it.

Vintage home decor is what it's in these days, so invest in an old fashioned alarm clock, one that just does what alarm clocks should do and not be sending you notifications about Joe Bloggs down the street and what he's up to.

Move all your pluggable devices out of your room, of course except your hair dryer and straighteners perhaps. Your room should be for getting ready, for reading, for having some intimate time perhaps and for sleeping.

Have an honest reflection about your lifestyle and your personal circumstances and create the ideal routine that you want and write it down. Practice makes perfect, the more you do it the better you'll get at it.

I cannot emphasise the importance of exercise on sleep, so make sure you take some time out of your day to do some exercise. It could be as simple as a brisk walk during your lunch break or going to the gym, whatever, but make sure you exercise.

Try and have your dinner earlier in the evening rather than later at night and use this as an opportunity to really slow the pace of your day down.

I love having dinner with my little boy and talking to him about his day, because nine times out of ten, it's way more interesting than my day.

I get that this is not for everyone, but taking a little bit of me time out, whether it's to reflect on your day, whether it's a meditation or some yoga before bedtime is very beneficial.

In my house we do some family yoga before bedtime and my son and I love this. My husband hates it, and so it does turn out to be quite an entertaining twenty minutes, but it gets us together.

Probably the most important intervention that you can make is putting yourself first before your device. So we have a rule of ‘I before iPhone’ in our house.

Did you know that seventy one percent of the British population go to sleep either with their phone or beside their phone? This means there’s a constant temptation to check notifications, emails, do online shopping, all of which interrupt our ability to sleep.

Smart devices, laptops all these things emit a blue light, which interferes with our natural hormone of melatonin responsible for regulating our sleep. So as you can imagine, if you're using these before bed, you're not going to sleep well.

So in our house we have a smart bowl, so we put our phones into this bowl when we come home and this makes us spend more time talking to each other and reading rather than being on our phones.

Also having your devices charging in another room means that there is no temptation or distraction to check your notifications. I also put mine on airplane mode, which makes me decide when I want to let the world back in to my head.

Waking up at the same time every morning is essential to a healthy sleep routine, so make sure you set the same time on your vintage alarm clock every day, and although it might be hard at the beginning, you'll soon be doing this on autopilot.

There really is nothing quite like watching the sun come up in the mornings and I've got a dog and I love doing that with him every morning. It's so important to get some natural light in the mornings, so make sure you do something that allows you to get some.

Certainly caffeine comes as a great quick fix sometimes, but in the long term it actually hinders our ability to function. So try and cut down if you can, if not then make sure you get all your caffeine in well before 4 PM.

On that note, thank you for listening to my New Year's resolution on Instagram stories with Push Doctor. I hope that it's been of some benefit to you on your journey to a restful 2018 and good night.

Keep your eye out on Push Doctor for more insights on New Year's resolutions from doctors, for you.

Topics: Sleep, expert health advice