Sleep is just as important as diet and exercise. Our ever-increasing hectic lives sometimes lead us to sacrifice sleep to ensure we cram in as much as possible during the day. For us to be able to function at our highest capacity, we need good regular sleep. Sleep deficiency can have detrimental effects on our physical and mental health, such as the increased risk of obesity, heart disease, and can even shorten life expectancy.
Most adults should aim to have around 8 hours of sleep each night to function at our best the next day. Some adults may need more or less sleep than others but what we need to do is find out what is best for us. Some of us may have sleep disorders such as sleep apnoea which can prevent us from getting sufficient oxygen whilst we sleep which can disrupt our sleep and leave us feeling un-rested. People with sleep apnoea and other sleep disorders will have to seek medical intervention.
But there are things we can do to help ourselves have a better night’s sleep and keep to a regular bedtime. Here are a few tips that we can bear in mind:
Control the light in your bedroom
Melatonin is a hormone controlled by light exposure that helps us wake up on a morning. Your brain produces more of this hormone when it’s dark which makes you sleepy, and produces less when it’s light which wakes you up. This is why it’s important to make sure your sleep space is dark to allow your brain to produce more melatonin. On a morning, make sure to expose yourself to light to help your body wake up. You could try having breakfast outside or in front of a sunny window.
Keep to a routine
Keeping to a sleep routine will enable your body to set your internal body clock and improve the quality of your sleep. Choose a reasonable time that you begin to naturally feel tired and try to stick to the same time each night to go to bed. People usually wake up naturally without an alarm clock when they have had enough sleep. If you feel you need an alarm clock to wake you, then you may need an earlier bedtime. At weekends try and stick to your bedtime routine also. If you have had a late night, try and make up for the sleep loss with an afternoon nap instead of a morning in bed.
Exercising during the day can improve the quality of sleep, as physical activity increases deep sleep which the most physically restorative sleep stage. This helps to boost immune function, maintain cardiac health, and manage stress. More intense exercise will have larger sleep benefits, but even a 30-minute daily walk will improve your sleep quality. But make sure you carry out intense workouts exercise at least 3 hours before bedtime.
The food and drink you consume within the day can also interfere with your sleep quality and routine. For example, caffeine can remain in the body for longer than we anticipate and affect sleep. It is advised to avoid caffeine 6 hours before bedtime to ensure that your body no longer is under the influence of caffeine. In addition, alcohol is also a stimulant that can interfere with our sleep cycles even though we may feel more relaxed after a nightcap. Furthermore, too many fluids before bed can mean that we are up frequently in the night to empty our bladders also.
To find out more about caffeine and how it affects sleep, see here:
One of the leading causes of the lack of sleep is stress and worry. Our lives are becoming increasingly busier with the pressures of modern life so it’s to be expected that we are struggling to control our worry and turn off our electronic devices. Most people are so overstimulated during the day that we find it difficult to switch off at night as our brains are used to constantly seeking fresh stimulation. It’s time to slow down, stop multi-tasking, and limit social media usage. To help, you can set specific times during the day to check your phone and social media, whilst also making a habit to complete only one task at a time. Before bedtime, make sure you make time away from looking at bright screens as the blue light that’s emitted from your phone, TV, and tablet can interfere with your sleep. Try turning the brightness down or using devices with smaller screens as the light can suppress melatonin which can delay sleep.
By Rachel at Cheswold Park Hospital