Annie Button, an independent writer has written about Sleep. Read more below.
Following World Sleep Day on Friday, 18th March, we are reminded constantly that good sleep is the foundation for optimum health and for having a positive frame of mind. “The average person spends 26 years of their life sleeping,” says one mental health expert but “we also spend 7 years trying to get to sleep.”
According to figures released by The Sleep Charity, 40% of adults and children suffer with sleep issues. If you’re one of the many people who struggle to fall asleep easily, suffer with interrupted nights or wake up in the morning feeling anything but refreshed and ready to take on the day, you’re certainly not alone.
Having a bad day?
Poor sleep can influence your entire day and everything in it. Starting the day still tired means you have no energy to be mentally alert and raring to go.
Whether you forget where you left your keys or phone, you’re late for work or unprepared for an important meeting, or you’re feeling irritable children, having a bad day can all be a consequence of not getting enough good quality sleep. Relationships can suffer too if you sleep next to a partner who is a loud snorer or disturbs your sleep with heavy mouth breathing. Such issues might not just compromise your ability to fall asleep, but can be detrimental to the amount of good-quality sleep you achieve on a regular basis.
And, did you know that being tired also affects your hunger hormones? A sleepy brain will find it difficult to make healthy food choices, which means you will be more tempted to grab a quick sugary snack or a greasy takeaway.
By the time you get home, chances are you’ll be feeling even more exhausted, stressed and grumpy, which doesn’t make for a harmonious private life and is definitely not the best state of mind for peacefully drifting off to sleep a few hours later. And so the cycle continues…
What are the benefits of good sleep?
In order to feel your best during the day, it is essential that you get a good night’s sleep – 7-9 hours of nightly sleep are the recommended amount. Sleep is an essential function that allows the body and mind to rest and recharge and getting enough sleep is essential for optimal health and wellbeing. In fact, it’s as important as eating a balanced diet and getting regular exercise.
Sleep produces so many health and wellness gains that whole libraries have been written on the subject. To recap, here are the main benefits:
- Boosting the immune system, making your body stronger in the fight against illness
- Helping to prevent weight gain by staving off junk food cravings and overeating
- Lowering blood pressure and strengthening the heart and cardiovascular system
- Increasing concentration and productivity at school or the workplace
- Improving memory and cognitive brain function for better performance
- Raising athletic performance during exercise
- Elevating mood and generally feeling happier
How to improve your sleep?
If you are not a good sleeper and your daytime routines, mental wellbeing and your general health are suffering as a result, there are many things you can do to improve the situation. However, don’t expect miracle cures. Everyone is different, so what works for one person may not work for another. It’s worth persevering and trying different strategies until you find something that makes a real, positive difference to your quality of sleep.
Creating the best sleep environment
Let’s start by focusing on creating a restful environment to set the scene for a peaceful night’s sleep. Think of your bedroom as an oasis. Stress and distraction free, it should be a calming space that’s reserved for relaxation and sleep. While the interior décor choices in your bedroom are obviously entirely up to you, there are certain science-backed sleep hygiene suggestions that are worth trying.
- Most experts agree that a cool and dark room is best for sleeping. Aim for a temperature of no more than 165-19 degrees Celsius in the bedroom and use curtains or blinds that are thick enough to block out unwanted light.
- Peace and quiet are the ideal conditions for a good night’s sleep. Your bedroom should be in a quiet part of the house away from noise and traffic. Some people use ‘white noise’ apps or soothing sleep-inducing podcasts to help them drift off.
- A tidy bedroom is less mentally jarring and distracting than a room full of clutter. Scientists agree that what your eyes see when you walk into the bedroom can influence how easily you fall asleep. Creating a calm, clutter-free space is key.
- The right bedding can make all the difference to the quality of your sleep.Choose the right mattress and pillow according to your preferred sleep position, and a duvet that will keep you warm enough without overheating.
Getting into a healthy sleep routine
The best way to prepare for a good night’s sleep is to have an effective bedtime routine at the end of a busy day. It’s what parents do with small children, knowing that settling their little ones with a warm bath and a bedtime story gives the best results for an uninterrupted night’s sleep. Of course, you can devise your own strategies to help you decompress and unwind before heading off to bed. Here are some suggestions to consider.
- Avoid heavy meals within 3 hours of bedtime and limit your intake of caffeine and alcohol later in the day to give your body the best chance to rest. Coffee will keep you awake while alcohol and food processing can disrupt sleep.
- Get into a ‘no tech after dinner’ habit. No answering emails or messages, no social media, no late night computer work or TV. Scientists agree that screentime before bed is harmful: it stimulates the brain and suppresses melatonin.
- Instead, focus on destressing activities such as listing to your favourite calming music, reading a book or spending time with your loved ones, practising mindful exercises or restorative yoga, or having a relaxing bath.
Create a tranquil setting with low lighting such as dimmed overhead lights, lamps or candles. Indirect light is less disruptive to the body’s natural circadian rhythms, and helps prepare you for a good night’s sleep ahead.