We’re all aware of how important sleep is for our health. But are we getting enough? And, if not, how can we change that?
The benefit of a good night’s sleep - and the damage of not getting one - is something we can all relate to. It’s recommended that we aim for seven to nine hours sleep per night, which is the optimal amount for our overall health. However, a survey by BUPA revealed the average adult in the UK gets just 6 hours 18 minutes per night1.
So why are most of us, on average, not getting enough? And what can we do about it?
Why aren’t we getting enough sleep?
According to the survey1, the top reasons for not being able to get a proper night’s sleep are:
- Thinking about work
- Background noise
- Electronics (e.g. smartphones, TVs and laptops)
- Excess caffeine1
Many of us lead busy lives and can find it difficult to switch off. And nowadays with new technology blurring our work-life balance more and more, it’s no wonder it can be hard to mentally relax. But is that really such a problem?
Why do we sleep?
The answer might seem obvious when we’re exhausted, but actually we still don’t understand exactly why we need to sleep. What we do know is that sleep plays a vital role in some of the following things:
Memory: your brain’s ability to store and process information
- Learning: absorbing information and skills
- Regulating metabolism: your body’s ability to process food into energy
- Cognitive health: concentration, short-term memory and overall energy1
Those are just a few of the main benefits that we know about. Conversely, not getting enough sleep can have a detrimental effect on both your physical and mental health, including:
- Slower reactions: increasing your risk of injury or accidents
- Poorer cognitive function: a lack of concentration, making more mistakes and forgetting things
- More seriously, sleep deprivation has been linked to things like obesity, high blood pressure, cardiovascular problems and diabetes
Clearly, sleep is essential to our health and wellbeing. So how can we make sure we get enough of it?
Eat well, live well, sleep well
This isn’t the first time that you’ll have heard this (and it won’t be the last!), but a healthy diet and regular exercise can’t be recommended enough. These are just two ways you can improve and regulate your sleep pattern.
Being physically tired by the end of the day from exercise can improve the quality of your sleep, help you fall asleep more quickly, and increase the total time you sleep for. But avoid exercising too late in the day, as this may leave you feeling alert and energised when you don’t want to be!
As for food: the amino acid tryptophan - found in rich protein foods like turkey, chicken and tofu - is thought to help induce sleep, especially if combined with carbohydrates such as white rice.2
Other top tips for a good night's sleep
- Avoid caffeine late in the day and have a cut-off point for coffee, tea, energy drinks and hot chocolate so you don’t feel their effects in the evening and through the night. Alcohol is also best avoided if possible as it may make you drowsy and can interrupt and fragment your sleep.
- Try not to drink too much too close to bedtime, otherwise you might keep waking up to go to the toilet
- Avoid eating fatty or spicy foods in the evenings, as they might cause indigestion and disrupt your sleep
- Stick to a schedule. Where possible, go to bed and wake up at regular times, so your body falls into a natural rhythm
- Find a small routine that relaxes you before you go to bed. Reading or meditation are good ways of winding down
- Don’t use electronics in bed. Because smartphones, TVs and laptops omit blue light, your brain thinks you’re in natural daylight when you use them, making it hard to fall asleep afterwards
- Make your sleep space comfortable. Your bedroom should be dark and quiet for when you go to sleep. A comfortable temperature will help too
And finally, if you find yourself sleep deprived, a “power nap” of about 20 minutes can help counter the effects of lost sleep. Just don’t do it too close to your actual bedtime!1
If you have trouble sleeping and want some further advice, find out more about the many things our specialist Sleep Clinics can aid with.
To find out more call us on 0808 101 0337
or make an online enquiry.