When was the last time that you got a good night’s sleep? I am talking eight hours of undisturbed restful sleep that leaves you feeling refreshed and ready to jump out of bed in the morning. Not sounding familiar? You are not alone. Amongst the increasing demands that we all have on our time; whether it is work, family, an active social life or a combination of all three – sleep is slipping down the list of priorities and is all too often seen as a luxury.
Poor quality sleep has the power to affect the functioning of your body in myriad of ways…
With so much to do and so little time to do it do we really need to prioritise sleep?
The answer is a resounding yes. Research has shown that sleeping fewer than eight hours per night on a regular basis can increase the risk of developing various medical conditions including obesity, diabetes and heart disease. Even reducing the amount of sleep that we get by just two or three hours per night can have dramatic health consequences; potentially doubling the risk of cardiovascular disease.
Poor quality sleep can affect all aspects of your health
Poor quality sleep has the power to affect the functioning of your body in myriad of ways; increased hunger and fat storage, hormonal disruption, chronic inflammation, memory loss, premature skin aging and depression are all common side effects.
One of the primary functions of sleep is to assist with brain development. You will most likely be familiar with grumpiness, grogginess, irritability and forgetfulness which can occur after just one or two nights of poor quality sleep. Whilst you may think you can function just fine, your ability to assess situations and make informed decisions is impaired; whether this relates to a task at work or just what to order for lunch, your entire view becomes distorted.
Think you can stay in control of your diet? With sleep deprivation generating more ghrelin (the hormone that tells you when to eat) and suppressing leptin (the hormone that tells you to stop eating) that healthy lunch order is getting more of a struggle and you are facing an uphill battle to prevent weight gain. That biscuit needed for an energy boost or that easy to grab pack of crisps will become the norm. Add on a slower metabolism and a long list of excuses not to go to the gym and the decline in health begins.
Adjusting your sleeping habits can take time and may involve making some seemingly difficult changes to your lifestyle.
It is easy for things to spiral out of our control at the best of times when we are busy and stressed. Adding sleep deprivation into the equation, especially when it is chronic, ongoing disruption makes it near impossible to make positive choices. Losing just a couple of hours sleep a night over a prolonged period of time can have a wide reaching impact on your health not to mention your ability to do your job.
The solution? Take steps to improve the quality of your sleep and make it a priority. Try following our troubleshooting tips below to see if you can make improvements.
1. Get into a routine
Your circadian rhythm is responsible for your sleep/wake cycle. Revolving around natural cycles of light and dark, and regulated by biochemical processes, this sophisticated system is responsible for making sure you feel awake in the morning and sleepy at night. Cortisol is responsible for wakefulness, whilst the opposite action is performed by melatonin.
By constantly varying your sleep/wake times you are upsetting a sensitive and cyclicalrhythm and disrupting hormonal balance. The simple answer is to go to bed at the same time each night and get up at the same time each morning. This may seem utterly impractical, even impossible, but sleep is as important as food, heat and light and needs to be afforded the same priority. Try your best to work within the boundaries that you have and see what a difference it makes. Working shifts may need a longer term solution but watching box sets at midnight can easily be resolved.
2. Avoid TV and electronic devices
Watching TV may seem like a relaxing thing to do before bed but when receptors in our eyes are hit with bright light for an extended period of time, they send a message to the brain saying it’s time to be awake which in turn decreases melatonin production. The result; your body stays awake for longer. This doesn’t just apply to watching TV; it includes all electronic devices that have a back lit screen.
Aim to turn off the screen at least two hours before bed. Instead try reading a book, going for a walk or a relaxing bath before bedtime. You could even just try having a good old chat with whoever you live with!
3. Impact of light and noise
Light and noise are both disruptive to sleep, even if you are not consciously aware of the fact. You could be tossing and turning all night but think you have had your eight hours and wonder why you feel so tired. For deep motionless sleep to occur, the conditions must be conducive to sleep; dark and quiet. Try black out blinds or heavy curtains, even an eye mask if necessary. If noise is bothering you then invest in a pair of earplugs – the foam types used by swimmers are excellent.
4. Eating before bedtime
Hunger levels, and blood sugar levels, can be linked to restless nights. If your body is struggling to digest a heavy meal late at night then you may have difficulty getting to sleep. A diet too low in carbs can cause sleepless nights so introducing safe starches such as sweet potato could be a good idea. A magnesium supplement or spray at night can also aid a good night’s sleep.
5. Reduce stimulants
Cigarettes, alcohol and caffeine are all stimulants. Alcohol may appear to relax you and send you into a welcome coma but once the body begins to metabolise the alcohol it has a stimulating effect. You may be very sensitive to caffeine and find that a cup of coffee at midday can be enough to prevent you sleeping at bedtime or you could find it has minimal effect on you. You may find that you sleep best if it is eliminated from your diet completely.
Everyone is different
Remember that everyone is different. You may find that you can drink coffee right up until bedtime and it has no effect on you, but a tiny bit of noise in the night will have you jumping out of bed wide awake. Try out a change or two over the course of a week to really see the benefits. If it doesn’t work then try another!
Adjusting your sleeping habits can take time and may involve making some seemingly difficult changes to your lifestyle. If lack of sleep is starting to affect your health and wellbeing then this is a small sacrifice to make. Remember, sleep is just as important to the human body as diet and exercise. If after trying these tips you still struggle with a good night’s sleep, seek further advice from your doctor.
- Sleep and Health. (n.d.). In Division of Sleep Medicine at Harvard Medical School and WGBH Educational Foundation. Retrieved from http://healthysleep.med.harvard.edu/need-sleep/whats-in-it-for-you/health
- Sutter, John D. (May 13, 2010), Trouble sleeping? Maybe it’s your iPad. (n.d.). In CNN: Technology. Retrieved from http://edition.cnn.com/2010/TECH/05/13/sleep.gadgets.ipad/
- 10 Things to Hate About Sleep Loss. (February 13, 2014). In WebMD: Sleep Disorder Health Center: Coping With Excessive Sleepiness. Retrieved from http://www.webmd.com/sleep-disorders/excessive-sleepiness-10/10-results-sleep-loss?page=3
- Sleep and Weight Gain: Will better sleep help you avoid extra pounds?. (April 30, 2013). In WebMD: Sleep Disorder Health Center: Coping With Excessive Sleepiness. Retrieved from http://www.webmd.com/sleep-disorders/excessive-sleepiness-10/lack-of-sleep-weight-gain?page=2