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The importance of sleep for your health

Personally, I love sleep. If I had the choice between a night out partying and a night in with freshly washed bed sheets and a feather down duvet, sleep would win every time. However, I know I am in the minority.

According to scientist at Oxford University, we are getting between one and two hours less sleep per night than we did sixty years ago and sleep deprivation is thought to cost the British economy abut £40bn a year. Aside from the financial cost, there are many damaging effects on our mental and physical health as a result of sleep deprivation and the fact that we are supposed to spend a third of our lives asleep gives some clout to its importance. All animals need sleep and if rats don’t get their quota, they can die within as little as one month! The longest a human has managed to stay awake is 11 days.


What are the benefits of quality sleep?

  • Greater concentration levels
  • Reduced sugar cravings
  • Increased life expectancy
  • Reduced risk of obesity
  • Increased life expectancy
  • Reduced risk of chronic diseases such as type 2 diabetes & Alzheimer’s


What are the costs of not getting enough sleep?

Waking up feeling refreshed is a good barometer as to whether you have had enough sleep. The average adult requires between 6-8 hours a night, but the quality of sleep is super important too. It is said that struggling to nod off at night or frequently waking in the night are usually attributed to lifestyle factors which is good news because these can be changed. Some of the negative effects of sleep deprivation are:

  • Increased levels of stress hormones
  • Increased blood pressure
  • Stimulation of sympathetic nervous system (leading to feeling jump/anxious/on edge)
  • Stimulation of hunger hormones (which make you eat more than you need to)
  • Increased inflammation of the body
  • Reduced cravings for sugary foods


What can you do to improve your sleep hygiene?

There are many things we can do to improve our sleep but here are just a few simple ones that are easy to achieve:


Create complete darkness in your bedroom

A dark room is a message to our body and mind that it’s time to rest. It does this by activating the production of melatonin which is a hormone responsible for helping us go to sleep. Even all the power lights on our electronics in the bedroom should be switched off where possible. Blackout blinds are a great help as they can shut out the glare from the streetlamps outside.


Avoid technology in the 2 hours before bedtime

Our devices release the same wavelength of light as the morning sun so you can imagine the confusion for our body and mind if we are staring at our phones before bedtime. A hack here could be to buy some amber glasses which help to reduce the amount of stimulating light transmitted from your phone. Aim to stop using your mobile phone as an alarm clock and keep devices out of the bedroom.


Create a bedtime routine

The body has its own natural rhythm which we need to support. We can do this by creating a regular bedtime routine and sticking to it. This should include going to be and waking up at the same time – even at the weekend. Obviously, there will be times when you are out and end up going to bed much later than normal but even when this does happen, aim to get up at the usual time, despite being tired.


Drink caffeine before noon

Caffeine is a popular drug and one that works well and even has some health benefits. However, too much of it can have negative effects that leave you feeling shaky and anxious. This clearly isn’t going to help if you already experience anxiety so it may be time to review your caffeine intake. However, if you aren’t ready to give it up completely, aim to consume caffeine no later that midday. There is science behind this which relates to something called a ’half life’ of any drug but in simple terms, the longer you have without caffeine in the lead up until bedtime, the easier it will be for you to fall asleep, stay asleep and feel refreshed in the morning.


Much of what this article contains is inspired by Dr. Rangan Chaterjee’s book ‘The 4 Pillar Plan’. It’s a great read that will help you to make some valuable lifestyle changes for the better.