Barry’s Blog – The importance of sleep


Felling drained and not yourself? Lack of sleep could be the cause. With over 20 years experience, read Barry’s tips on how to get a good nights sleep.

Barry Vaughan BSc NMT

NTC Neuromuscular & Physical Therapist
BSc Sport & Exercise Science
NSCA Certified Strength & Conditioning Specialist
IAWLA Olympic Weightlifting Coach
FFI Matwork Pilates Instructor

Hi All,

First blog post here so, for those of you that don’t know me, my name is Barry Vaughan. I’m a personal trainer and neuromuscular therapist within Womens Fitness Cork.

I’ve been involved in personal training, working in gyms, and training sports teams for about 16 years right from the beginning of my sport & exercise science degree at the University of Limerick in 2003, pretty much before social media existed…Bebo, anyone??

My career has included training about 30 intermediate football teams, two All-Ireland winning intercounty teams, working with three GAA county boards, Irish champion rowers, international champion powerlifters, weight loss clients, and medical/injury rehab referrals from physiotherapists and G.P.s and surgeons.

If you’re going to try and help such a wide range of people, it helps to learn about things they all have in common.

One of the things I have found that every human can struggle with, regardless of who they are, is recovery, and specifically, sleep quality! Working solely with women every day, I understand and have seen the effects that lack of sleep can have, with every day tasks and not just your health and fitness. According to “most adults need between 7 and 9 hours of sleep a night to feel refreshed, although women who are pregnant may need more and older adults may average less’.

Not getting this? Don’t worry, I understand and we have all been there.

You’re wrecked, you’ve had a really long, hard, tough day, and your longing for the blissful quiet void of deep, restful sleep. And then your tossing and turning, you can’t switch off, and you end up just getting more and more annoyed until your alarm goes off and it’s up out of bed to start the whole cycle again!

Why is sleep so important?

It doesn’t matter if your an inter-county footballer, a busy mom/dad, you suffer from back pain, or you just want to be fit strong and healthy, if you’re not sleeping right, you’re going down!

See, a lot of crucial things happen during normal, healthy, restful sleep:

  • •        Healthy production of hormones
  • •        Tissue repair after hard training
  • •        Crucial for mental health

For those of you that are still having trouble sleeping, I have a few more tricks up my sleeve. 90% of you will find that you drift off more easily, have a deeper restful sleep and wake feeling refreshed, alert, bright eyed and bushy tailed.

There are a few main things that can disrupt a healthy sleep pattern. If we disregard long term insomnia, sleep apnea, and medical sleep disorders (you would need to visit your G.P. with these). 

Sleep Disrupters

Cognitive Anxiety:

Your thoughts are racing, maybe with lists, figures, schedule problems, fears and anxieties about what might happen tomorrow/next month/next year. I’ll give you some easy tips to reduce this, and if you still struggle you can look into better measures like Eckhart Tolle’s book The Power Of Now, or great. apps like Headspace, Calm, or Wysa. Some tips to deal with this are:

  • •        Reading a paper-based book, or finishing one large print Sudoku
  • •        A “brain dump” of 3-5 life or death bullet points about ideas/schedules
  • •        Jacobsons’ Progressive Muscular Relaxation Technique (see below)
  • •        Avoid blue light from phone/laptop late in the evening
  • •        Get a good session of exercise like a class early in the day or afternoon


Somatic Anxiety

Your body feels tense, especially upper back, forearms, tension headache, and maybe even joint pain in lower back, knees or shoulders. You just can’t switch off physically. Here’s what you can try for this:

  • •        Relaxation methods like 4/6/8 breathing and PMR work so well



Sympathetic/Parasympathetic Nervous System imbalance

This can be a tricky one so let me explain. There are two branches to the nervous system. One is the sympathetic, of Fight Or Flight mechanism. This, a function of our most basic “reptilian brain” is designed to save your life (e.g. from lions, tigers, volcanoes, bank managers). Nowadays, we haven’t got much practical use for it as our lives are pretty safe most of the time. But if you have lots of perceived threats, or if you handle stress badly, this system can become activated, bringing with it upset stomach, headaches, tense muscles, high blood pressure, joint pain, and poor sleep.

The other is the parasympathetic nervous system, known as “rest & digest, feed & breed). All of the things you might do only if there were no big immediate threats to your safety. We switch this on using massage (mechanotherapy), meditation, breathing techniques like 4/6/8, Epsom salt baths. You’ll notice this switch on when the patients’ stomach starts gurgling 30 mins into a massage treatment, as their digestion begins to come back online.  

Only one of these systems can be switched on at once, and most people are out of balance most of the time, but to switch off SNS, we switch on PNS!


Psychological Methods To Boost Sleep

The psychology that leads to deep restful sleep could be an area you need to work on. You may need to work at developing healthier habits that let your body and mind get into a normal healthy rhythm.


Regular Routine

Firstly, try to set a certain time that you go to sleep each night, e.g. 10.30pm. Honestly, is that extra episode of crap telly really worth sacrificing your health and happiness by depriving yourself of the healthy sleep your body needs? Most of us have Netflix or sky + nowadays, so you’re not going to miss anything.


Sleep Hygiene

Try to get the room as dark as possible. Try to turn off all electrical equipment and artificial light sources (iPod dock, phone charger etc.) Avoid using laptop/kindle/messing with iPhone etc while in bed or getting ready for bed.


Progressive Muscular Relaxation

PMR, or The Jacobson Technique, is a technique for reducing anxiety by alternately tensing and relaxing the muscles. It was developed by an American physician named Edmund Jacobson in the 1920s. It is widely practiced by those that suffer from anxiety and also by sports people looking to control their psychological arousal, e.g. pre-competition nerves or before their mental imagery training. It worked a treat for me in college during exam times when I had spent 12 hours studying physics or biomechanics and my brain was swirling with numbers and equations and worried about exams. The basic premise of PMR is that a person cannot achieve mental relaxation while muscular tension exists in the body. The technique teaches you to notice the difference between muscular tension and relaxation. I would normally use a guided practice myself and with my clients by performing this with an audio file on an iPod and headphones while lying on a bed or sofa. This is a very effective method with initial practice sessions taking around 30 minutes. As your skill progresses you can learn to do this in shorter and shorter sessions, with or without the audio file, lying or sitting. Learning to relax is a life skill that everyone should learn. A pity they don’t teach this well-researched, highly effective stuff in schools.

This was covered in detail in my Sport & Exercise Science degree, so I’ve used it a lot over that last 15 years, myself and with clients. Here’s a free sample of a quick 5-minute one that I’ve made myself  


Physical Methods To Boost Sleep

  •     Epsom salt bath or foot bath. Magnesium is a powerful relaxant and helps to rid the body of excess tension and prepare for sleep.




•        A Pilates or Stretch & Core class would be perfect for easing muscle tension and getting the body back into balance.




• Mechanotherapy, a common technique in one of our Neuromuscular Therapy sessions, is one of the most powerful ways to bring this system back into balance.  


I hope this has helped and you start getting a well deserved, good nights sleep and if you are still deprived, I am available for consultation!



If you have any questions or would like to come and speak with me about any issues you have, you can book a consultation on our Memberships/Offers Page