We all crave a good night's sleep and understand that in order to feel energised and alert we need a well-rested mind and body, but how important actually is sleep? In this blog we take a look at the physical and mental benefits of sleep, how much sleep we need, and how we get more of it with our sleeping tips.
Why is sleep important and how much do we need?
According to the NHS we should all be getting roughly 8 hours of sleep a night. We require sleep, to rest, restore and grow, but it also provides a variety of other mental and physical benefits, such as:
- Boosting immunity - continued lack of sleep can disrupt your immune system, making your body less able to fend off bugs.
- Boosting mental wellbeing - chronic sleep deprivation can lead to long term disorders such as depression and anxiety so it's important to get the right quantity and quality of sleep to improve our wellbeing and mood.
- Increase memory - sleep is crucial for our learning, concentration and memory and a lack of sleep can affect our ability to respond to and store information.
- Help prevent type 2 diabetes - A lack of sleep can affect the way your body breaks down glucose increasing your risk of developing type 2 diabetes.
- Increase sex drive - research suggests that men and women with poor sleep quality have lower libdos and less interest in sex.
- Help prevent heart disease - research suggests that sleep deprivation can increase blood pressure, inflammation, autonomic tone and hormones, which may put extra strain on your heart increasing the risk of heart disease.
With all of this in mind, you’d think that that we’d all be hitting the hay and getting a full night’s sleep, however according to the The Sleep Council’s 2017 report more than a third of Brits (35%) have suffered from sleeping problems for more than 5 years and 33% only manage 3-6 hours of sleep a night. So what is causing us to have such difficulty sleeping?
Common causes of sleep deprivation
- Illness – colds, tonsillitis and flu can cause snoring, coughing and frequent waking.
- Stress – The strains of daily life can worry us all and often keep us awake at night
- Sleep disorders – Sleep apnoea and snoring can disturb you and your partner
- Sleep environment – Room temperature, noise and light can disrupt your sleep
- Lifestyle choices – coffee, alcohol and cigarettes stimulate the brain
- Technology - the light emitted by screens decreases the production of melatonin, which controls your circadian rhythm (sleep/wake cycle).
Not only are many of us not getting enough sleep but 31% of the UK have previously taken medication in an attempt to relieve the problem. However there may be a few things you can try at home to improve your quality of sleep. Take a look at our top sleep hygiene tips that could potentially help you get a better nights sleep.
What is sleep hygiene?
Sleep hygiene is the recommended lifestyle routine that helps promote quality sleep.
How to fall asleep and tips for a quality sleep
You are what you eat when it comes to sleep
Your choice in diet can play a major role in disrupting your sleep pattern and there are several foods and drinks that you should be avoiding to improve your sleep. Drinking coffee and alcohol or smoking cigarettes close to bedtime stimulates the nervous system, making sleep less likely.
Caffeine is a stimulant that speeds up the messages travelling between the brain and body, enhancing performance and reducing sleepiness. Caffeine is great if your aim is to feel more energised and alert but that late afternoon coffee might be what’s keeping you up at night and reducing your quality of sleep.
Alcohol can disrupt your sleep cycle causing a less restful and light sleep. It's also a diuretic, meaning it encourages the body to lose extra fluid. So, it's no surprise that after an evening of heavy drinking you're up in the night going to the toilet, sweating and waking to drink water due to dehydration.
Hop, skip and jump to sleep
Exercise can improve sleep quality and duration by increasing the time spent in the restorative stage of deep sleep. Deep sleep can help support immune function, boost cardiac health and help control stress and anxiety.
Not only is exercise good for your physical and mental health but it can also help you get a better night's sleep. Research suggests that while the rise in body temperature from physical activity can make you feel more awake, the gradual fall in body temperature will inevitably make you feel more tired, encouraging you to fall asleep. Exercise is also known to increase endorphins, which reduces the symptoms of stress and anxiety enabling you to fall asleep more quickly.
Sweet dreams are made of this
The room and environment you sleep in could be affecting the quality of sleep you are getting. Environmental factors, such as temperature, noise and light may be disrupting your sleep cycle.
It’s best to have a cool bedroom at night-time to promote sleep. For the hardcore among you, try taking a cold shower just before bedtime.
Make sure there are no distracting lights or noises at bedtime, such as having the TV on to go to sleep.
Red light at night - bedtime delight! The white and blue light that you phone screen emits is a big no-no if you want a good snooze. Orangey, red is actually much better, because it mimics the sunset!
Going to sleep should be relaxing therefore the environment you sleep in should also be relaxing. If a messy bedroom makes you feel stressed, then tidy up before you go to bed to put your mind at ease. Most importantly the bed you are sleeping in should be comfortable, so it may be worth investing in a suitable mattress and bedding to help improve your sleep quality. There’s even something called a sleep induction mat. This is something near to a plastic bed of nails to lie on just before bedtime - these acupressure nodules boost the release of endorphins!
Wind down and ditch the tech
There are many ways of relaxing and winding down before going to sleep and everyone is different so it's important to find what works for you. Whether its having a bath, reading a book or meditating, we suggest also following these two rules. Try dimming the lights an hour before bedtime, as this should naturally allow your mind and body to gradually slow down and relax. Avoid doing anything that involves a screen as the blue light emitted by phones, computers, tablets and TV screens decreases the production of melatonin, which controls your circadian rhythm (sleep/wake cycle).
Eat, sleep, rave, repeat
Erratic sleeping patterns can cause you to get out of sync with your schedule, so a regular bedtime and wake up time will help you take control of your internal clock. No doubt there will be times that life interferes with your sleep routine, but try and stick to similar times even at weekends so that you can stay on track. If you’re finding it difficult to go to bed earlier than you usually do, then try making 15 minute adjustments every few days until you reach your ideal bed time.
Taking control of your health and wellbeing isn’t always the easiest of tasks, but if sleep is becoming a concern for you or someone else, then visit the National Sleep Foundation or book an appointment with your GP using the Evergreen Life app.
Chee, M and Chuah, L. (2008) "Functional neuroimaging insights into how sleep and sleep deprivation affect memory and cognition," Current Opinion in Neurology,