So many people I see in clinic struggle with the effects of poor sleep. So, I’d like to share with you why quality sleep is so important and how you can go about getting it!
A good night’s sleep is as important to health as eating the right things and exercise. Your physical and emotional wellbeing depend on getting enough. Yet we’re living in sleep-deprived times. Scientists claim that we are now getting an hour or two less sleep each night than we were 60 years ago. And the effect on our bodies is not good.
The amount of sleep each person needs varies. Waking up feeling refreshed in the morning is a good indicator and so is being able to wake without an alarm. If you need an alarm to wake up, it’s likely that you are not getting enough sleep. If you don’t get enough sleep, you may not be able to concentrate properly, and become irritable, agitated and have decreased motivation. And, on top of that, if you are feeling tired and low in energy, you are less likely to make the best food choices.
Also, quite worrying is that our reaction time to hazards is compromised; you might be surprised to learn that, in a computer simulated driving test, the reaction time of a person with just a few hours sleep was slower on the (virtual) road than that of a person who had consumed enough alcohol to remain just under the drink-drive limit. In fact, fatigue is a major cause of road accidents.
The purpose of sleep is to rest and recover – and to allow the body to repair itself. These maintenance and repair processes take 7 to 9 hours.
But just how do you get a good night’s sleep?
The most common cause of insomnia is a change in your daily routine. For example, travelling, change in work hours, global pandemic, disruption of other behaviours (eating, exercise, leisure, etc.), and relationship conflicts can all cause sleep problems. Establishing good sleep hygiene is the most important thing you can do to maintain good sleep. It might also be helpful to keep a sleep diary to help pinpoint any particular problems.
- Try to go to bed at the same time every night. Your body thrives on routine.
- Keep the temperature in your bedroom comfortable; not too hot, nor too cold.
- Keep the bedroom completely dark, so you’re not disturbed by light, which your brain detects even when your eyes are closed. Eye masks can be useful.
- Get outdoors daily to soak up the sun and regulate your circadian rhythm – the earlier in the day the better.
- Try to take some gentle exercise every There is evidence that regular exercise improves restful sleep. This includes stretching and aerobic exercise. A brisk walk ticks both boxes.
- Make an effort to relax for at least 15 minutes before going to bed – a warm bath, massage, meditation.
- Keep your feet and hands Wear warm socks and/or mittens to bed.
- Consider getting a traditional alarm clock so your smartphone can stay out of the bedroom (see below). Better still, work out how much sleep you need by going to bed 15 minutes earlier until you find that you wake up naturally before your alarm. That’s your personal sleep requirement.
- Engage in stimulating activities – like playing a competitive game, watching an edge-of-the seat film, or having an important conversation with a loved
- Use technology (smartphones and tablets) within 60 minutes of your bedtime as this interferes with sleep, because of the blue light these devices emit which is the same kind of light as the morning sun.
- Eat a heavy meal within four hours of going to bed.
- Drink caffeine after lunch eg coffee, tea (incl green tea) and caffeinated drinks such as
- Use alcohol to help you Alcohol can make sleep more disturbed.
- Go to bed too hungry – have a small protein rich snack before bed if you need one; a glass of milk or oat cake & nut butter is ideal.
- Eat a diet high in refined and starchy carbohydrates such as bread, rice, pasta and sugars as these foods lead to blood sugar fluctuations which can result in sleep disturbances. A sugar ‘crash’ at night triggers the release of cortisol (stress hormone) which will wake you up.
You will almost certainly have read some of these tips before. Just knowing the information is not going to give you the restful night’s sleep you are looking for. The only thing that counts is action.
If you know beyond a shadow of a doubt that lack of sleep is at the root of not getting organised enough to plan your meals ahead of time (which may result in your feeling forced to grab a coffee and croissant as an ‘on the go’ breakfast), has you craving sugary snacks you wouldn’t otherwise eat and feeling like a shadow of your normal self, I invite you to put getting more and/or better sleep at the top of your to-do list this week to see what a difference it can make.
You might already have a whole list of things ‘to do’ this week but focusing on this ONE thing might be what you need to see a real shift in everything else.