With Sleep Awareness Week 2022 just around the corner, we thought we’d use this week’s blog post to shine a spotlight on the important role sleep plays when it comes to our physical and mental wellbeing and share a few hints and tips along the way which we hope will help boost your sleep quality and, hopefully, your mood!
According to the NHS, almost a third of us here in the UK suffer from poor sleep, with grumpiness, fatigue and difficulty concentrating just some of the most commonly reported side effects we struggle with as a result. Although these effects are usually mild and short-lived, having several sleepless nights in a row can have more serious consequences like increasing your risk of injury at home or work, compromising your immune system, and can even put you at risk of obesity, increased blood pressure, and heart disease if it continues long enough. But what actually makes sleep ‘poor’, and how can we set ourselves up for a peaceful night of rest instead of constant tossing and turning?
It’s fairly well known that most adults need between seven and nine hour of sleep per night, but sleep quality isn’t just about how long we’re asleep for; there are four other main factors to look at which are just as important:
- How many times we wake up: stirring once or twice to change position or use the bathroom isn’t unusual and shouldn’t have too much of an impact on your sleep cycle, but frequent waking can really reduce your sleep quality and, in some cases, be a symptom of an underlying health condition.
- How long we’re awake for after initially falling asleep: as we said above, it’s not uncommon to wake up briefly during the night for a myriad of reasons, but being awake for longer than twenty minutes in total over the course of the night can have a negative impact on how well rested you feel in the morning.
- How long it takes to fall asleep: ideally, this should be between ten and twenty minutes, though taking up to thirty minutes can still be considered normal. If it regularly takes you more than this to fall asleep, it could be due to an underlying sleep disorder such as insomnia, or poor sleep hygiene (more on that in a moment).
- How efficient our sleep is – ie. how much of our time in bed we actually spend sleeping rather than scrolling on our phones or watching TV.
So, how can we improve our sleep quality and reduce our sleep debt without resorting to artificial aids like sleeping tablets or caffeine? This is where that ‘sleep hygiene’ we mentioned earlier comes in. Almost everyone’s can be improved in one way or another, and the benefits of getting it right are far reaching – increased fertility, decreased risk of diabetes, improved mental wellbeing, and even weight loss to name but a few.
With so much to gain and so little to lose, why not try some of our sleep hygiene tips below and give your sleep quality a much needed boost:
- Limit unnatural light: light can slow your body’s production of melatonin (a hormone which helps us sleep) so, if you’re having trouble falling asleep at night, your bedroom setup and electronic devices could very well be the culprits. Try minimising your exposure to ‘blue light’ by switching off your TV and limiting your use of your phone or tablet well before bedtime to allow your body to wind down naturally and, if you have streetlamps or other artificial light sources outside your window, consider investing in a pair of blackout curtains for your bedroom; you’ll thank us later.
- Keep it cool: although a lot of us like to snuggle up warm for comfort when it’s time to sleep, doing so can actually make it harder for us to have a restful night. The optimal temperature for sleep is around eighteen degrees, so you might want to turn your thermostat down a degree or two – good for your sleep quality and your wallet!
- Minimise noise: a quiet, peaceful environment means fewer disruptions to your sleep, but if you live near a busy road or have noisy neighbours, silence isn’t always achievable. If this is the case for you, you might want to try playing white noise or familiar gentle music in the background instead as this should help block out some of those intrusive sounds and minimise those middle of the night wake ups.
- Avoid caffeine: it may be tempting to reach for the coffee jar when you’re tired, but fuelling yourself with caffeine can actually perpetuate your sleep problems so try to avoid high caffeine foods and drinks like coffee and chocolate too close to bed.
- Move during the day: regular exercise boosts your mood and increases your body’s drive to sleep at night, helping you fall asleep faster and wake up better rested. Try getting some form of exercise in every day, even if it’s just a quick walk outside – you’ll be surprised by how much better you feel for it!
We hope these tips will be helpful to you, but if you find yourself really struggling with your sleep despite following them and it’s negatively impacting your mental or physical health, we strongly recommend you speak to your GP to rule out any underlying conditions that could be to blame.
If you’d like to know more about the different types of sleep education we can offer, get in touch with Rich below and he’ll be happy to help!