Sleep Well For Sleeptember

Sleeping Better

September is here and today marks the start of our annual awareness campaign, Sleeptember where we look at how to get a good night’s sleep and why it’s beneficial.

Sleep is critical to health and wellbeing and as a nation we really aren’t getting enough. With research telling us that a third of us sleep for just five-to-six hours a night, it’s imperative that we start focusing on sleeping better. It is a basic and fundamental human requirement and is vitally important for good physical, mental and emotional health as well as crucial for memory, learning and growth.

People go to huge amounts of time and expense to eat well and exercise regularly but without a good night’s sleep all that effort will be in vain. There are lots of factors that can impact on achieving a good night’s kip from light and noise, to the sleep environment and your own lifestyle habits.

What are some of the biggest lifestyle factors contributing to poor sleep?

Stress and anxiety is one of the contributing factors to lack of sleep. Whether it’s a jam packed pressurised work schedule or worrying about finances, it tops the poll when it comes to keeping us awake at night. Stress causes the heart rate to go up and in turn the mind starts to ‘race’. This causes the brain to become too alert and stimulated to sleep.

Bad habits also play a huge part – from not eating well, not exercising enough, alcohol and caffeine consumption, irregular sleep schedules and over using technology in the hours before bed. Being ‘over connected’ has become a major issue in the past few years due to the advances in technology. Too many of us check emails, social media or browse the internet in the hour before bed.

How many hours of sleep should we be aiming for a night and why?

A good night’s sleep is one where you wake feeling refreshed and energised.  There is no magic number for sleep – we all function differently. It’s about the quality of the sleep you get, not the quantity. The general consensus seems to be that around seven to eight hours is the norm. The best way to determine if you’re getting enough sleep is to look at how you feel the next day. Being tired doesn’t mean you’ve not had enough sleep. However if you feel sleepy, exhausted and unable to function then chances are you not sleeping well.

What symptoms might we experience if we don’t get enough sleep?

Just one bad night’s sleep affects our mood, concentration and alertness while long-term sleep deprivation has far more serious consequences: it’s been linked to a number of serious health problems such as high blood pressure, heart disease, diabetes and stroke. A good night’s sleep can help us fight off minor ailments, deal better with depression and even tackle weight problems.

If sleep deprivation mounts up, people start getting sleepy during the day, they find it more difficult to make decisions, make more mistakes, have shorter tempers, slower reflexes and so on.

If you’re constantly feeling groggy and sleepy you need to work on how to get better sleep. But whatever it is that’s keeping you up at night – be it diet, stress or needing a new bed – by changing your habits throughout the day and fine tuning your evening routine, you can uncover that elusive night’s sleep.

What is a good nightly sleep routine to follow?

To improve your chances of sleeping well, it’s essential to develop a good wind down routine. Small changes can have a huge impact on your sleep quality and quantity.

  • Change the way you wind down at bedtime – experiment with new ways to relax like warm baths with calming scents, quiet soothing music, reading, gentle stretching and yoga.
  • Avoid using technology before bed as it stimulates the brain making it harder for you to switch off. Also the blue light that emits from these devices messes around with your body’s circadian rhythms by suppressing the sleep inducing hormone melatonin in the brain, which is what we need in order to feel sleepy.
  • Establish a regular sleep pattern if you can. Going to bed and waking up at roughly the same time. Our bodies and minds will feel much better for it.
  • Keep your bedroom for rest and sleep. It should be neither too hot, nor too cold; and as quiet and dark as possible. Make sure the room is gadget free and your bed is comfortable. It’s difficult to get deep, restful sleep on one that’s too soft, too hard, too small or too old.
  • If you’re stocking up on caffeine to stay awake during the day and having a glass or two of alcohol at night to help you relax, it’s going to be playing havoc with your sleep patterns. Try and avoid caffeine 4-5 hours before bedtime; have a hot milky drink or a herbal tea instead. And cut out the alcohol until you’ve got your sleep patterns under control and then keep within recommended limits.
  • Certain foods are known to calm the brain and help promote sleep. Avoid eating a big meal and spicy food just before bedtime as it can lead to discomfort and indigestion, but a small snack may be helpful for some. The best bedtime snack is one that contains complex carbohydrates and protein and perhaps some calcium – which is why dairy products (yoghurt, milk) are top sleep-inducing foods.
  • Don’t try to sleep – it needs to find you. Keep your eyes open and gently resist sleep or try to adopt a carefree, accepting attitude to wakefulness. Avoid clock watching if you can’t get to sleep within 15 minutes from switching the light off then get up and go to another room and do something relaxing.

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