World Sleep Day
Why is sleep important?
In today’s culture, sleep is often not seen as a priority and many people underestimate its importance. With work and personal lives taking preference, sleep tends to be dismissed and put on the back burner. This often leads to poor sleep habits and potentially developing further problems with sleep. Getting a good night’s sleep is invaluable to human health. From the moment we are born, the amount of sleep we get impacts our health, both physical and mental, in more ways than we are probably aware of.
The amount of sleep we need varies somewhat from person to person however we all need sufficient sleep (8 hours) to function to the best of our ability. Our brain function depends on getting enough sleep. Missing a few hours here and there may not seem like a lot at the time but it impacts our brains whether we’re aware of it or not.
Whilst we sleep our brains are forming memories, our body repairs cells and digests food and growth hormone production surges therefore it’s no surprise that sleep deprivation has a hugely negative impact on your health and your mood. Sleep and mental health both have a direct impact on each other. People who are poor sleepers tend to have poor mental health and vice versa. It is often a sign of underlying issues and indicates towards problems that they may not even be aware of.
Each sleep cycle consists of 4 stages, 3 NREM stages and 1 REM stage. The REM stage is where we dream and typically lasts around 10 minutes the first cycle, increasing to between 30 – 60 minutes in later cycles. An average sleep cycle lasts around 90 minutes, which means during a full night’s sleep we go through several cycles.
Common sleep problems/disorders
Many people experience poor sleep throughout their lifetimes as our body clocks change. Teenagers tend to have more irregular and delayed sleep, and as we age our sleep quality tends to worsen. These are completely normal changes however some people experience more severe sleep problems.
Some of the most common sleep disorders are:
- Insomnia (acute, chronic) – A sleep condition defined by difficulty falling asleep, staying asleep or both.
- Hypersomnia – A condition causing excessive tiredness and prolonged sleep.
- Sleep Apnea (obstructive, central, complex) – A condition in which breathing stops and starts during sleep.
- Narcolepsy – A neurological disease which causes difficulty controlling sleep-wake cycles.
- Delayed Sleep Phase Syndrome – A condition where a person’s sleep is delayed 2 or more hours beyond what is considered a conventional bedtime/sleep pattern.
- Chronic Fatigue Syndrome – A condition causing intense fatigue and exhaustion.
Some of the most common causes of poor sleep are:
- Too much caffeine and alcohol
- Poor sleep habits
- Shift work
- Eating and drinking late
- Sleep disorders
- Jet lag
- Poor physical and mental health
- Side effects from medication/drugs
Healthy Sleep Habits
There are some simple habits you can implement to ensure you have a better quality of sleep. Most are things you’re probably already aware of. Small changes like these can help you to make the most of all the benefits that good sleep provides. More severe sleep problems like the ones listed above will require more interception and hard work to fix, your GP or a sleep specialist will be able to help.
Regular sleep pattern
It may be difficult but trying to maintain a sleep schedule will help you regulate your sleeping pattern. Falling asleep and waking up at the same time, even on weekends, will help you get your body clock into a routine. Over time, sticking to a regular sleep pattern will help you fall asleep at a good time and wake up feeling well rested.
Have a comfortable bedroom
The idea of a what a comfortable bedroom is will be personal to each of us. Your bedroom should be a place of comfort and safety for you. Decorating it how you want, having a good mattress and comfortable bedding will all help your quality of sleep. Setting the temperature in your room to suit your liking is also an important factor, typically a cooler room is better for sleep but it’s important to figure out what is best for you.
Avoid alcohol and caffeine
It’s a well-known thing to avoid consuming high levels of caffeine before bed, it is a stimulant and can make it very difficult to fall asleep. Many people find alcohol helps when falling asleep, but your sleep is very disrupted throughout the night meaning your quality of sleep is poor.
Get up if you can’t fall asleep
Lying awake in bed worrying about not being able to fall asleep makes it even more difficult. If you’ve been in bed for a while and know you won’t be able to fall asleep anytime soon then get up and do something. Avoid all the usual things you should around bedtime such as screens, caffeine, and intense exercise. Keeping the lights dimmed will help your body clock but getting up and doing something calm such as reading can be a good thing if you’re finding it impossible to fall asleep.
Avoid sleeping pills where possible
Although they can be useful in the short term, sleeping pills are not a long-term solution and their effectiveness varies between people. There are a few negative effects of sleeping tablets, some can cause problems with dependency and withdrawal or have a ‘hangover’ effect. Non-medication approaches to treatment are better for people with conditions such as insomnia which have proven to be effective.
Don’t spend excessive amounts of time in bed
Many people like being in bed, I for one am guilty of spending a lot of my time in bed but it can have a negative impact on your sleep. If you’re working from home, doing revision, or studying in bed, you begin to bring all the stress or anxieties that surround those aspects of your life into your space for relaxation. It becomes harder to detangle and separate those thoughts and feelings when you’re getting ready for sleep. Similarly, TV, phones and other devices can interfere with your sleep quality. If you’re constantly doing other things in bed, you stop associating bed with sleep and rest therefore making it more difficult to fall asleep when the time comes.