We all feel better when we get enough sleep.
You’ll wake feeling refreshed, less stressed and better able to concentrate at work. Sleep is crucial for many other elements of your health too.
Lack of sleep has been linked to higher blood pressure and can increase your risk of being obese because too little sleep affects hormones that regulate appetite, lack of sleep also increases your chances of developing type 2 diabetes.
How much sleep you need varies from person to person. While most people find 7.5 to 8 hours is enough over 50 per cent of men and a third of women survive on 7 hours or even less. However less than 6 hours sleep per day over time can lead to health problems and can affect your concentration levels, making it harder to learn new information.
Get a better nights sleep
The first way to tackle any sleeping problem is to look at your bedtime habits and the environment that you sleep in.
- Avoid caffeinated drinks: These include tea, coffee, cola and energy drinks such as red bull. You should avoid them for 6 hours before bed as caffeine winds up the brain and makes it harder to sleep. Switch to herbal teas, decaffeinated drinks, water or juice, ideally from the late afternoon onwards.
- Don’t eat a big meal before bed. Leave at least two hours between having a heavy dinner and going to bed.
- Avoid ‘blue light’ devices before bed: Ideally stop using computers or tablets or even staring at your mobile for 2-3 hours before bed. This is because they emit blue light that helps boost our attention and makes us more alert which will make it harder to fall asleep. Also try to avoid the TV and turn down bright lights for around 20 minutes before bed as the brightness will confuse your internal body clock and wake you up not wind you down.
- Deal with stress: If you’re worried about something try writing it down or practise relaxation techniques. If these don’t work ask your GP about seeing a counsellor, or contact the Employee Assistance Programme.
- Relax: The perfect way to wind down is to read for 20 minutes or so before bed using a dim light or soak in a warm bath.
- Have a routine: Get into the habit of going to bed and getting up at roughly the same time each day. Your sleeping habits depend on your body clock being set properly. Going to bed and getting up at different times each day disrupts this pattern.
Coping with shift work
If you’re working shifts try to ensure you have 7-9 hours sleep after work. Set the time of your sleep that works best for your shift. Read more about adapting to shift work here.
Keep the bedroom dark and quiet. Earplugs can help to block out nearby sounds. Make sure it’s not too hot or cold.
Exercising daily helps you get into a deep sleep. During a full night’s sleep you should go through cycles of deep sleep and lighter sleep. If you are sleeping badly you may just have mainly lighter sleep making it more likely that you’ll wake up during the night. Exercise makes deep sleep more likely and morning exercise can help you spend 75 per cent more time in deep sleep.
Also go for a walk in natural daylight, exposure to light during the day will help reinforce the proper cycle of the body clock and help make you feel sleepy at night.
If you do wake during the night concentrate on relaxing, not on sleep, and don’t check the time as you’ll worry about not sleeping.