Sleeping Well to Live Well
"If a worker loses just one night of sleep his cognitive ability is roughly the same as being over the legal alcohol limit"
We all sleep, but many of us don’t do it very well.
A good night’s rest is essential to a healthy lifestyle – protecting you physically and mentally as well as boosting your quality of living. Jack Rayner asked Lisa Artis of The Sleep Council some pertinent questions about sleep and the impact it has on health, as well as asking for her top tips for getting more zzzs.
How can we make sure we are getting a proper night’s sleep every night – what are your top tips?
To ensure you experience good sleep it’s essential to follow good lifestyle habits and to eliminate the factors that are causing you disturbed sleep. For example, make sure that your bedroom is the right environment (cool, dark and quiet), that your bed is up to scratch, and that you avoid food and drink that can hinder sleep.
Avoid screen time at least an hour before bed and find alternative ways of relaxing, like warm baths with calming scents, quiet soothing music, reading, gentle stretching and yoga. It’s also important to establish a regular sleep pattern – going to bed and waking up at roughly the same time. Your body and mind will feel much better for it.
How much sleep should we be having per night?
Whilst there’s no magic number for how much sleep we should get, there is a general consensus that around seven to eight hours is best. Experts believe that most adults require somewhere between six and nine hours in order to feel refreshed and to function well both mentally and physically. It’s important to remember it’s also about the quality of the sleep you get, not just the quantity. The best way to determine if you’re getting enough sleep is to look at how you feel the next day. Being tired doesn’t mean you’ve not had enough sleep, but if you feel exhausted and unable to function then chances are you are not sleeping well.
I’ve read a statistic which says we are missing out on a full night of sleep each week – do you agree with this?
This statistic doesn’t surprise us and it is worrying – sleep is essential to health and wellbeing. We spend a lot of time focusing on exercising and eating well but we miss sleep out of the equation – yet the other two don’t work correctly if you don’t sleep well. Our own survey found that a third of Britons get by on just five to six hours sleep a night, yet a growing body of research suggests that mental and physical problems become more pronounced in those sleeping for less than six hours. Not sleeping enough may ramp up the ‘fight or flight’ response to stress, releasing hormones that speed up heart rate and raise blood pressure.
What are some of the effects we could feel from sleep deprivation?
Just one night of interrupted sleep negatively affects mood, attention span and cognitive ability. Each hour of sleep lost per night is associated with a temporary loss of one IQ point.
Can a lack of sleep increase the risk of serious medical conditions?
Regular poor sleep puts you at risk of obesity, heart disease and diabetes – and it shortens your life expectancy. A good night’s sleep is vital as a restorative time and plays a significant role in healing and repairing the heart and blood vessels. It also gives the immune system and the cardiovascular system a rest and allows other organs to be restored.
Lack of sleep can increase insulin resistance, a risk factor for the development of type 2 diabetes and heart disease. Shortened sleep can increase CRP, or C-reactive protein, which is released with stress and inflammation. Studies have suggested that people who usually sleep less than five hours a night have an increased risk of having or developing diabetes. It seems that missing out on deep sleep may lead to type 2 diabetes by changing the way the body processes glucose – the high-energy carbohydrate that cells use for fuel.
Why would poor sleep lower your immune system?
Lack of sleep suppresses your immune system making you more vulnerable to infections and metabolic and hormone changes. Research has found that getting a good night’s sleep strengthens the immune response suggesting that the release of certain hormones during sleep boosts the immune system.
Researchers in America have found that burning the candle at both ends increases the chances of coming down with coughs, colds and upset stomachs – especially among students and young adults.
Some people brag about surviving on a lack of sleep. What damage can a lack of sleep have on them and their jobs?
In today’s busy world, we’re all very eager to believe that sleeping one hour less will give us one more hour of productivity, but in reality, it’s likely to have the opposite effect. Sleep is not a passive process – during good restorative sleep we grow, make sense of our days and detox.
There are many dangers of being sleepy at work – especially if your job involves driving or operating any kind of machinery. If you’re sleep deprived, not only are you less alert but you’re less likely to make good decisions, focus on tasks or manage a friendly mood. Did you also know that if a worker loses just one night of sleep his cognitive ability is roughly the same as being over the legal alcohol limit?
How can sleep deprivation produce similar effects to being drunk?
Sleep deprivation impacts in serious ways – tiredness can impact on driving ability, reaction times and judgement and causes poor concentration, thinking, memory, increased irritability and hostility. Sleeplessness leads to hallucinations and sensory dysfunction. Noises become louder, vision is affected and sufferers start to isolate themselves. Sleep deprivation can lead to mental meltdown. Forcing someone to stay awake is a known torture technique used in interrogation. Broken or interrupted sleep can leave you feeling as sleep deprived – as if you’d just had four hours rest a night – because you are disrupting your natural sleep rhythm. It may mean you do not reach the most restorative, deeper phases of sleep.
Should I ‘power nap’?
Planned daytime naps can improve alertness without necessarily affecting nocturnal sleep. Try to limit naps to around 20 minutes – any longer and they may leave you groggy and interfere with night-time sleep. If you find yourself needing a nap on a regular basis, chances are you need to re-evaluate your sleep. Be aware, that if you experience insomnia or poor sleep quality at night, napping might make these problems worse.
Are there any products you can buy that help you to get a better night’s sleep?
A bed – many people underestimate the importance of a comfortable, supportive bed. Research suggests that swapping an uncomfortable bed for a new one resulted in nearly an extra hour of sleep a night. Invest in blackout blinds or heavy curtains to keep your room dark. Light suppresses melatonin (the sleepy hormone) that relaxes your body, helping you to drift off. If noise wakes you, consider purchasing earplugs. There are also a variety of apps and trackers that claim to help improve sleep – but just be careful that they don’t interfere with your sleep and that you don’t rely too heavily on them. They don’t always give a true indication of sleep patterns and may cause unnecessary worry and concern.
How would getting a better night’s sleep impact you the next day?
A good night’s sleep makes you look better, feel better, behave better, perform better and think better – what more couldyou want?
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