One of the most under-appreciated aspects of a healthy lifestyle is sleep. With the average UK adult sleeping only 6.5 hours per night, we lose around an hour and a half of sleep per night compared to people in the 1940’s. As a nation, we are chronically sleep-deprived and it can have a dramatic effect on our health.
Read on for lots of actionable tips on improving the quality and quantity of your sleep…
Effects of Sleep Depravation on Health
Being deprived of sleep can lead to a whole host of physical and mental issues. It’s not simply a case of us becoming progressively more tired – we suffer more serious symptoms, including the following…
- Increased risk of stroke and heart disease
- Reduced ability to cope with stress
- Disregulated digestive hormones, leading to craving high-sugar foods and ultimately, weight gain.
- Reduced immunity
- Increased susceptibility to depression
- Reduced sex drive
- Slower injury healing
These are a snapshot of the very many symptoms of poor sleep. The reality of how important sleep is to us has only really been discovered in the last few decades, but now the lesson has been learned it’s really important we take the findings of the research seriously and change our sleep behaviour.
How Modern Life Effects Sleep
With our long working ours, exposure to artificial light, increased stress and constant staring at screens, our sleeping patterns are worse than they’ve ever been.
We affect our own sleep with our habits – watching TV late at night, not establishing a consistent bed time routine, reading phone screens in bed. These all have a negative impact on our sleeping thanks to the blue light they emit, the thinking they make us do at bed time and the fact that receiving calls and texts causes the phone to vibrate or ring, which can wake us during the night.
Although the old rule of ‘8 hours sleep every night’ has been largely discredited in the scientific community, it’s still a good idea to aim for 7-8 hours most nights. We do all have individual sleep requirements so a generalised recommendation won’t apply to everyone, but as a guideline, it’ll work for the vast majority of people.
Here’s the problem though – we aren’t getting that amount.
As I said at the top of the article, the average UK adult now only manages 6.5 hours sleep per night, leading to a sleep debt of around 3.5-10.5 hours per week. When you consider the effects that a lack of sleep has on our health, is it any wonder why more and more people are overweight, suffering from mental illness, higher stress levels are heart disease?
I’m not saying lack of sleep is a causal factor, but it certainly won’t be helping the situation.
How To Improve Sleep…
The first port of call is the bedroom itself. It needs to be completely dark – even a little light can have a negative effect on sleep patterns.
The room also needs to be airy – if you live in a quiet area, perhaps open a window overnight (if it’s warm enough!) If you don’t live somewhere quiet, maybe keep the window open in the evening to let plenty of fresh air in, then close it when you go to bed.
The bedroom should be cool, rather than warm. Our body temperature rises during our sleep, so if the room is hot it can lead to us overheating and waking up with a sweat.
Ideally, smart phones and tablets will be kept out of the room so they can’t cause a distraction – either by temptation to read them or by lighting up if you get a call or text.
Your bed should be as big as you can get away with – more room means you’ve got extra space to move into when you roll around in your sleep. If you can move around without bumping into a wall, you’re less likely to have your sleep disturbed!
Pick a mattress that suits you. Personally, I like a mattress that’s firm but has a slightly softer top. There are lots of mattresses out there, so do some research before settling on one!
Opt for the lightest duvet you can – you don’t want to overheat every night. It’s worth having a summer and a winter duvet of different weights too, so you can help prevent overheating.
Try to stay consistent with your bed time. Late night followed by a lie-in, following by an early night is pretty confusing for your body to deal with. Try to stay consistent.
Don’t drink caffeine for 2-3 hours before bed, If you’re particularly caffeine sensitive, maybe increase that time.
Try to limit screen time for an hour before bed. Instead of watching TV, maybe read, have a bath or listen to some relaxing music – just don’t do anything that will have your brain working overtime for you!
Don’t drink anything in the last 30 minutes before bed. If you go to bed with a full or nearly full bladder, chances are you’ll be waking in the night for a toilet trip.
Improving Sleep Conclusion
A good, consistent sleep routine will improve literally every single aspect of your life – there are none that I know of that good sleep wouldn’t help. Start by using the tips in this article and your health, fitness, physique and productivity will thank you for it! Good sleep is a fundamental aspect of good health!