‘Sleep is as important to our health as eating, drinking and breathing. It allows our bodies to repair themselves and our brains to consolidate our memories and process information’ The Mental Health Foundation 2018.
We are living increasingly busy, hectic lives with so much to do and so little time. This can mean that we view sleep as something that gets in the way of life as we live it today. However, good and sufficient sleep is crucial to your physical and mental wellbeing.
Recent research has shown that sleep deprived individuals will suffer permanent neurological damage – rapid cell death in the brain and a significantly increased chance that you will develop dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. You will also have difficulty storing memory as during sleep we consolidate new memories, preserve new information and make links to long term memory, all of which are critical to learning, retaining memory and performing well while studying or working. You may become more irritable, moody, prone to poor judgement and irrational.
How much sleep do we need?
Research indicates that the vast majority of adults will require 7 to 9 hours of sleep per night to remain physical and mentally healthy.
Too little sleep makes it harder for you to challenge your negative thinking and negative thoughts are the precursor to anxiety and depression. Add to that the possible physical problems resulting from insufficient sleep such as, heart disease, diabetes and obesity and you may be starting to see why getting enough quality sleep is so important. As Dr Matthew Walker, a leading expert on sleep says, ‘the evidence is clear: the shorter your sleep, the shorter your life.'
How to improve your chances of getting to sleep
Start with these simple tips:
1. Stick to a sleep schedule
Go to bed and get up at the same time every day. Try to limit the difference in your sleep schedule on weeknights and weekends to no more than one hour. Being consistent reinforces your body's sleep-wake cycle. If you don't fall asleep within about 20 minutes, leave your bedroom and do something relaxing. Read or listen to soothing music. Go back to bed when you're tired. Repeat as needed.
2. Pay attention to what you eat and drink
Don't go to bed hungry or stuffed. In particular, avoid heavy or large meals within a couple of hours of bedtime. Your discomfort might keep you up. Nicotine, caffeine and alcohol deserve caution, too. The stimulating effects of nicotine and caffeine take hours to wear off and can wreak havoc on quality sleep. Even though alcohol might make you feel sleepy, it can disrupt sleep later in the night.
3. Create a restful environment
Create a room that's ideal for sleeping. Often, this means cool, dark and quiet. Maintain an ambient temperature in your room. If you’re too hot or too cold, you won’t sleep soundly.
Exposure to light might make it more challenging to fall asleep. Avoid prolonged use of light-emitting screens just before bedtime. That means avoiding televisions and computers. Having access to these will urge you to switch on when you can’t drift off, which in turn can lead to even more disturbed sleep. Avoid treating your bedroom like an extension of the rest of your house. That means you shouldn’t use it for work, watching TV, eating, and even talking on the phone.
Consider using room-darkening shades, earplugs, a fan or other devices to create an environment that suits your needs.
Doing calming activities before bedtime, such as taking a bath or using relaxation techniques, might promote better sleep.
4. Limit daytime naps
Long daytime naps can interfere with night time sleep. If you choose to nap, limit yourself to up to 30 minutes and avoid doing so late in the day.
5. Include physical activity in your daily routine
Regular physical activity can promote better sleep. You should avoid being active too close to bedtime Spending time outside every day might be helpful, too.
6. Manage worries
Try to resolve your worries or concerns before bedtime. Jot down what's on your mind and then set it aside for tomorrow. Stress management might help. Start with the basics, such as getting organized, setting priorities and delegating tasks. Meditation also can ease anxiety.
Written by: Richard Jenkins
Richard Jenkins is a Behavioural Psychologist with a particular interest in Resilience and how we can make simple yet often life-changing adjustments to the way we think and behave to improve personal wellbeing and performance. As well as running a counselling and hypnotherapy practice he is a frequent speaker on the subject of resilience, writing and delivering training, talks and seminars in the UK and abroad.