Published: 22 March, 2016
Well, as March is National Bed Month, I thought that it’d be the perfect time to talk about sleep, plus give you some top tips to help you with getting a restful night.
Why do we sleep?
Sleep seems to be a requirement for all mammals, and most other animals. We tend to think of sleep as a time when the mind and body shut down. However, this is not the case; sleep is an active period for our bodies in which a lot of important processing, restoration, and strengthening occurs. We need to sleep so our bodies can restore and rejuvenate, grow muscle, repair tissue, and maintain our hormone levels.
One of the vital roles of sleep is to help us solidify and consolidate our memories. As we go about our day to day activities, our brains take in an incredible amount of information. Rather than being directly logged and recorded, however, this information and experiences we have absorbed first need to be processed and stored; and many of these steps happen while we sleep. Overnight, bits and pieces of information are transferred from more tentative, short-term memory to stronger, long-term memory.
How much sleep do we need?
Healthy sleep is a necessity for everyone, since we all need to retain information and learn skills to thrive in life. Different people need different amounts of sleep. Whilst adults need on average between 6 and 9 hours of sleep per night, infants need roughly 11-14 hours, school-age children between 9 and 11, and teenagers between 8 and 10. It tends to be within these periods of growth and development that we need to sleep more.
The British population was surveyed three years ago by the Sleep Council and they found that one third of the people surveyed were getting an average of 5-6 hours of sleep per night, which is lower than the recommended amount. Just 7% of Britons get less than 5 hours sleep in a night, which is classed as being a “very poor” night’s sleep.
Between 6 hours and 9 hours for adults?
That’s right, obviously it varies for everyone, and that’s all on averages. It’s difficult to know exactly how much sleep any one person needs; everyone is different. Here are some top tips to help you to help you get the sleep that you need:
- Go to bed at the same time:Establish a routine. Hit the hay when you feel tired at the end of each day.
- Get up when you wake up:If you stir before your alarm then get out of bed. Obeying your body clock might be a chore but you’ll feel more alert through the day.
- Get into shape: Not exercising can leave you feeling restless. Working out on a regular basis will help you burn up that excess energy, but don’t do it last thing at night. Sleep won’t come quickly unless you give yourself time to wind down first. Try to get your workouts done earlier on in the day, or at finish your workout at least 3 hours before you go to bed. For more information on diet and exercise, see this blog - LOSING WEIGHT – IT’S THE SMALL THINGS THAT CAN MAKE SUCH A DIFFERENCE
- Eat sensibly:Avoid eating last thing at night or going to bed hungry. If you’re stuffed or hungry, your stomach won’t let you rest.
- Avoid alcohol, nicotine, and caffeine late at night; try something like a cup of herbal tea, a warm milky drink, or decaf coffee or tea. Some people say that alcohol helps them to get to sleep, however it tends to disrupt that sleep throughout the night.
- Check out your bedding:For a good night’s sleep, experts recommend a firm, level and supported mattress. Make sure that your bed and mattress are in good condition. It is recommended that you change your mattress every 8 years. An uncomfortable mattress may be to blame for keeping you up at night. Aim to strike a balance between comfort and support. Your spine should be level when lying on your back, without being too hard on your shoulders or hips.
- Make lists: If you have a lot on your mind, or if you are worrying about workloads, or your ‘to-do list’, try to write these down on a notepad beside your bed.
- Not too hot, Not too cold, Just right: As sleep is best with room temperature between 15-21ºC make sure your duvet isn’t too heavy. Wearing loose-fitting cotton night garments will allow your skin to breathe.
- Relax before bedtime:Turn off the TV or computer/smart phone. All of these electrical devices emit bright light which can disrupt the production of the body’s natural sleep hormones. Try doing something like reading a book, instead.
- Don’t clock-watch: Avoid lying awake at night looking at the time, counting how many hours sleep you will get before you wake up. This can make you feel under more pressure to try to get a good night’s sleep, and may add to stress, making it harder and harder to relax and switch off. Move your bedside clock to face away from you.
- Nap early or not at all: A lot of people find napping during the day as a good way to recharge their batteries, however if you are a daytime nap-taker, and struggle to sleep at night, it might be the naps that are the culprit. Long naps, and naps after 5pm can decrease your sleep drive. If you want to nap, keep them short, and take them before 5pm.
Too little sleep?
Are you one of those people who aren’t getting enough? Here are some symptoms of not getting enough sleep.
- Fatigue:If you’re out of rhythm with your sleep cycle, then at some point in your waking hours your body will start begging you to lie down.
- You forget things, and make bad decisions:Fatigue can affect your ways of thinking. If you’re up and about during a sleep cycle then your ability to remember things starts to slip, and your patience can start to wear thin.
- Your physical reactions slow down:When you’re tired, your body slows down in order to conserve energy. As a result, mundane tasks can become harder to carry out, while your reaction times plummet. This is one of the reasons why you should never drive whilst you are tired.
- Your appearance could start to suffer: and you might start to feel run-down.
The most important thing!
If you are struggling to sleep, and you do decide to try some of these tips, remember that consistency is key. Some of these tips will be easier to include in your daily and nightly routines than others. However, if you stick with them, your chances of achieving restful sleep will improve.
If you are still having problems with sleep, or having disturbed sleep, it might be worth a chat with your GP.
British Sleep Survey - The Sleep Council
Sleep Advice - The Sleep Council
Bed MOT quiz – The Sleep Council
Sleeping Well - Royal College of Psychiatrists
Self Help for Insomnia and Sleep Problems
Ted Talk on Sleep
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