Getting a good amount of quality sleep is essential for looking after your health, along with a healthy diet and regular exercise. It is not only the length of sleep you are getting each night that should be considered, but also the quality of sleep you are getting.
So how much sleep do we actually need? The amount of sleep someone needs is individual to them (most need 8 hours, but some can actually survive on only 3 hours a night) but the main factor is age.
Babies: about 17 hours
Older children: 9-10 hours
Adults: around 8 hours
Older adults: around 8 hours. Usually only one period of deep sleep occurs in first 4 hours, so during the latter half of sleep they may wake easier.
There are also some gender differences in that women tend to have slightly shorter circadian rhythms than men (going to bed earlier and waking earlier than men) and a longer total sleep time. Hormone fluctuations during the menstrual cycle and menopause can negatively impact a woman’s sleep quality.
It has been recommended that the best way of defining the quality of sleep you are getting includes the following 4 indicators:
You are asleep for at least 85% of the time you are in bed;
You fall asleep in 30 minutes or less;
You wake up (for over 5 minutes) no more than once per night;
You fall asleep within 20 minutes if you wake during sleep.
There are many benefits to having enough good quality sleep and below I have outlined some reasons as to why we should all be making sleep a priority for our health and wellbeing.
Improve attention and concentration
When you sleep you are resting your mind as well as your body. Having a good night’s sleep can help to maintain your levels of concentration throughout the day and ensures your decision making and reaction functions are not impaired, so you are better able to cope with anything the day throws at you.
Whilst you sleep and rest your mind, your brain works to process information it has taken in throughout the day, building memories and helping you learn.
Maintain a healthy weight
A good amount of quality sleep is important, especially if you are trying to control your appetite and weight. Not getting enough sleep will lead to increased appetite as your body needs more fuel to provide energy for the longer amount of time it is awake.
There is research to suggest that a getting enough good quality sleep is highly important for maintaining healthy levels of many hormones, including those that control appetite and blood glucose levels. If these hormones are impacted then this may increase the likelihood of overeating and increase your risk of developing obesity and type 2 diabetes.
Keep your heart healthy
Poor sleep, impacting stress hormone levels, can affect your body’s ability to regulate stress levels and maintain a healthy nervous system. This can, in the longer term, contribute to high blood pressure which is a risk factor for further diseases.
This is thought to be explained by the activation of the body’s nervous system on waking, which causes blood pressure to increase to prepare you for waking, so if you are waking too often through the night your body struggles to compensate for the constant rise in blood pressure over time.
Maintain a strong immune system
Sleep is important for resting and repairing your body and to support the immune system in combating any foreign invaders, strengthening your immune response.
Sleeping more and feeling more tired when unwell is your body telling you it needs time to rest and get you well again.
Improve emotional wellbeing and mental health
Lack of sleep can leave you at a higher risk of poor mental health. It can affect mood and lead you to feeling low which can in turn increase chances of you feeling anxious and worrying more about sleeping, leading you into a bit of a vicious cycle.
Practicing mindfulness is one way to help looking after your mental health and wellbeing – read the next section for more ‘tips on getting a good night’s sleep’.
Reduce levels of stress
Stress is often a key reason many people struggle to sleep – this can be from various things including work, relationships, health or money worries. Being stressed can produce a hormone called cortisol which can make it harder to sleep.
As mentioned previously, quality sleep is essential for controlling hormone levels. A good night’s sleep can relax your body and reduce the stress response, thus the hormone response to stress is also reduced.
This point is closely linked with the above on emotional wellbeing and mental health and again, mindfulness is a good way to help reduce levels of stress, which in turn can help improve sleep, which will then further reduce stress levels and cortisol production.
Top Tips for getting a good night's sleep
There are things you can do, and things you should avoid doing, to give yourself the best chance of getting enough good quality sleep. Below are some useful tips and things to think about:
Ensure your bedroom environment is comfortable - think about temperature, noise, light.
Ensure your bedroom is a ‘sleep zone’ by avoiding doing things like eating, watching TV and working in there. It is said that the bedroom should be a place for sleep and sex only.
Make sure you have a good, supporting mattress (replace every 10 years).
Think about what you are eating and drinking in the afternoon and before bed – caffeine, alcohol and heavy meals too late at night can affect how well you sleep. You should avoid caffeine 6 hours before you go to bed.
Exercise regularly to help boost your mood and relieve stress or anxiety that could impact your sleep. It is suggested you should try to avoid intense exercise too close to bedtime to allow your adrenaline levels time to stabilise and your body temperature time to return to normal – both things which could impact your sleep if not at a normal level.
Give yourself some time to relax before you go to bed – you could do things such as read, use essential oils or listen to relaxing music or a meditation. A sleep podcast I love, which has helped me sleep on those nights when my mind is especially active, is ‘Nothing much happens’ or, if you prefer something more meditative, try ‘Tracks to Relax’.
Avoid blue or fluorescent light in the evening. Most phones/devices now have the options to turn on a blue light filter which warms the colour and will have less impact on your circadian rhythm.
Get into a sleep routine – try to go to sleep and wake at the same time each day and establish a bedtime routine. Regular activities, even if it is just brushing your teeth and putting on your comfy PJs before getting into bed, will teach your mind and body that it is almost time to sleep.
I hope the above has helped to give you a deeper insight into the importance and benefits of sleep, some tips to improve yours, and how sleep can impact so many aspects of our lives.
I’d love to hear any tips you have to help you sleep better – please leave comments below if you are happy to share these with me and other readers 😊
If you would like any further reading on sleep, I found this site which contains a top 10 suggested list, varying from books helping us to understand why we sleep, and the science behind it, to how to sleep better and overcome insomnia.
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