For many people, getting a good night’s sleep is a pipe dream. Gone are the days of eight straight hours, replaced with tossing, turning, staring at the ceiling and then, inevitably, not wanting to get out of bed when the alarm eventually goes off!
Poor sleep can not only have a detrimental impact on your physical and mental health, but it can also affect your professional and social life, creating a vicious cycle. However, there are ways to get a better night’s sleep without extreme measures, and help to ensure that your journey to bed is no longer daunting.
Why is sleep important?
Sleep is just as important as food and water to ensure the function of the human body; rest allows cells to repair themselves and also enables the brain to calm itself down and have a break from concentrating, which can sometimes be just as taxing on the body as physical exercise.1
A rested brain is more prepared to learn new things, whether this be a school student learning a new subject or an adult learning a new skill.2 This also feeds into creativity and problem solving, meaning people who are well rested are more likely to overcome mental challenges than those who are sleep deprived. Sleep has a similar effect on the body as it does the brain, with a distinct lack of it leading to numerous physical ailments, ranging from weight gain and heart disease to reduced fertility.3
The effects of lack of sleep are significant; daytime drowsiness interferes with daily activities for 20 per cent of people, and the problem is even more of a factor among children, with 69 per cent of children experiencing sleep problems for at least a few nights a week.4
It is recommended by the National Sleep Foundation that the average adult gets around eight hours of sleep per night5, although this will vary depending on lifestyle, with highly active people requiring more rest and some people finding that they can function on just a few hours a night, though these are in the minority.
What are the benefits of good sleep?
Sleeping well each night has a multitude of health benefits, including improved resistance against bugs, as tiredness has been found to disrupt the immune system. Sleep can also help people to maintain a healthy weight; those who sleep for less than seven hours a day have an increased risk of becoming obese than those who get the recommended eight hours.6
As missing out on deep sleep has been found to affect the way the body processes glucose, rest can also help to lower the chance of developing type 2 diabetes, whilst lowering blood pressure and heart rate, which can ward off heart disease.6
The key to good sleep
Although it may seem difficult at first, there are ways to ease yourself into a proper routine of sleep, none of which will involve significant disruption to your life and many of which will help improve it.
If you tend to watch lots of TV or play on your phone before bed, try to curb this – ensure the bedroom’s primary function is for sleep, and remove any TVs or other devices that are not necessary. Replace that 30-minute TV show with a book, as reading can help to make the eyes tired without the strain that a monitor or screen can place on them.
Think about other aspects of your environment, such as the temperature in your room and any light sources. If the sun regularly wakes you up before you intend, try putting up thicker curtains. If your heating is scheduled to come on during the night or early in the morning, try not to turn it up too high, as being too warm can cause discomfort and also wake you up prematurely.
Keeping a sleep diary can also be an effective way of monitoring your progress and identifying areas for change or improvement. A sleep diary is not to be confused with a dream diary, which tracks what you have dreamt about. Instead, it should contain information such as what you had for dinner, how late you ate, whether you consumed caffeine or alcohol late in the day, what kind of activity you did that day, and any anxiety or stress you may be feeling. By eliminating and controlling those factors, you can determine your optimum sleeping arrangement and begin to benefit from high quality sleep.
If you are struggling to sleep, we hope that some of these tips can help you through, however if this is a persistent problem you should get in touch with your GP for support.
1 US Department of Health and Human Services http://www.hhs.gov/blog/2014/12/29/why-sleep-important.html
2 National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute http://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/health-topics/topics/sdd/why
3 NHS http://www.nhs.uk/livewell/tiredness-and-fatigue/pages/lack-of-sleep-health-risks.aspx
4 American Psychological Association http://www.apa.org/topics/sleep/why.aspx
5 National Sleep Foundation https://sleepfoundation.org/how-sleep-works/how-much-sleep-do-we-really-need
6 NHS http://www.nhs.uk/livewell/tiredness-and-fatigue/pages/lack-of-sleep-health-risks.aspx