Sleep hygiene… should we be counting sheep?

There is nothing better than waking up after a good night’s sleep.  However for many people a good night’s sleep is a distant dream and lack of sleep can seriously affect our health and wellbeing.

Some people can function on very little sleep and famously Margaret Thatcher allegedly only needed 4 hours’ sleep a night.  However most of us as adult need an average of 8 hours’ sleep a night to function properly.  We spend a third of our lives asleep so it is important we get the benefits of good sleep.

We need sleep to recharge our bodies, if we are deprived of sleep there can be long term health issues such as obesity, heart disease and type-2 diabetes as well as long term memory loss and dementia.   Not getting enough sleep can result in you putting on weight, because you have reduced levels of leptin the chemical that makes you feel full and an increased level of ghrelin which stimulates hunger.  It can also affect your immunity, so if you’re susceptible to picking up any cold or bug going round the workplace, you may be lacking sleep.

In terms of mental health, lack of sleep or poor sleep can affect our mood, increasing negative emotions leading to an increase in anxiety, depression and stress.  Sleep helps our brains rest and often helps us process thoughts and face the next day with a more positive attitude.

Research on sleep patterns has suggested that trying to catch up on sleep by having long lie-ins at weekends does not make up for not sleeping for long enough during the week.  However if you have been sleep deprived for a while, it is a good idea to let yourself sleep for as long as possible.  Go to sleep when you feel tired and get up when you wake up, rather than relying on the alarm clock.

How do we improve our sleep?

Sleep improves with routine, by having a pattern or schedule for sleep you will get into the habit!  Even add it to your to do list, however sleep shouldn’t be the thing you do once you’ve completed your to do list.

The habits to adopt to help you sleep include:

  • Sounds strange but make a to do list before you finish the working day for the following day so that it’s all down on paper, this will help you ‘clear your brain’ of thoughts that might be distracting you
  • Light exercise and fresh air during the day will help you sleep
  • Avoiding caffeine too late in the afternoon and evening (coffee, tea, Red Bull, Coke, etc)
  • Have a warm bath or shower
  • Try and have set a regular bed time and get into the routine of going to bed at the same time every night.
  • Read or listen the radio or an audio book will help distract your brain
  • Alcohol can make us sleepy initially but it will affect our sleep if drunk in too large a quantity

The environment where you sleep is also important.  This may sound obvious but there are some small changes you can make to improve your bedroom for a better night’s sleep.

  • Make sure your bed is comfortable, that includes the pillows and weight of the duvet/bedclothes
  • Ensure the bedroom is cool, between 18 and 24 degrees
  • Don’t have any screens in your room, TV, smart phone, computer or other gadgets
  • Good curtains or blinds on your windows to shut out any light and noise from outside

As for counting sheep… that is more likely to keep you awake than help you drift away to the land of nod.

 

For more information go to the NHS website

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