The positive impact of sleep on our mental and physical health

pug wrapped in brown blanket

Never underestimate the power of a good night’s sleep. Beauty sleep is a real thing, according to researchers who have shown that people who miss out on sleep do appear less attractive to others. According to a study, a couple of bad nights is enough to make a person look “significantly” uglier. Whilst our approachability to others may not be a top priority, your physical and mental health certainly should be. Adults are recommended to have 7 to 9 hours of sleep every night, children and teens are suggested to have even more to be able to function at their best! Sleep promotes healing, reduces stress, improves memory, concentration and productivity, and is an essential part of looking after your health.

But why is a good night sleep often harder to achieve than it sounds?

What are the top factors keeping the UK up at night?

In a UK wide survey conducted by Chemist 4 U, somewhat surprisingly people cited “children” as the lowest ranking factor that kept them awake at night. Stress came in at number one, with one in four people believing that it affects the quality of their sleep, and one in three people experiencing insomnia at some point in their lives. Other factors keeping us up at night include health conditions, long working hours and poor bedtime routines.

The value of sleep to our wider health and wellbeing

More of us are being kept awake at night by one or more of the mentioned factors than you might think with one in three of us suffering from poor sleep. If you are finding it difficult to fall asleep, lie awake at night for prolonged periods of time, wake on numerous occasions through the night or wake up really early unable to go back to sleep then you could have a sleeping problem.

It has been estimated that 90% of people who suffer from depression complain of poor sleep quality. Continuous sleep deprivation is also linked to increased risk of heart disease and diabetes, high blood pressure, weakened immunity and poor balance. It is also known to increase the risk of accidents due to drowsiness and poor concentration and leaves us feeling exhausted throughout the day.

In this video Matthew Walker, Professor of Neuroscience and Psychology discusses what happens to your body and brain if you don’t get enough sleep.


How to improve your sleep

If you do struggle with sleep, here are some tips from the ‘Sleep Foundation’ that could help you:

  • Stick to a sleep schedule. Get into a routine of going to bed and waking up at the same time, even on the weekends. This helps to regulate your body clock and could help you fall asleep and stay asleep for the night.
  • Practice a relaxing bedtime ritual. A relaxing, routine activity right before bedtime conducted away from bright lights helps separate sleep from activities that can cause excitement, stress or anxiety. These emotionally charged activities can make it more difficult to fall asleep, get sound and deep sleep, or remain asleep. If you have trouble sleeping, avoid naps, especially in the afternoon.
  • Exercise daily. Exercise at any time of day, but not at the expense of your sleep. As little as 10 minutes of aerobic exercise, such as walking or cycling, can dramatically improve the quality of your night-time sleep, especially when done on a regular basis. 
  • Design your sleep environment. Establish the conditions you need for sleep. Your bedroom should be cool – between 15 and 20 degrees. Your bedroom should also be free from any noise that can disturb your sleep. Consider using blackout curtains, eyeshades, earplugs, “white noise” machines, humidifiers, fans and other devices. Sleep on a comfortable mattress and pillows.
  • Use light to help manage your circadian rhythms. Avoid bright light in the evening and expose yourself to sunlight in the morning. This will keep your circadian rhythms in check.
  • Avoid alcohol, cigarettes, energy drinks and heavy meals in the evening. Alcohol, cigarettes and caffeine can disrupt sleep. Eating big or spicy meals can cause digestive discomfort that can make it hard to sleep. If you can, avoid eating large meals two to three hours before bedtime. Try a light snack 45 minutes before bed if you’re still hungry.
  • Wind down. Your body needs time to shift into sleep mode, so spend the last hour before bed doing a calming activity such as reading. For some people, using an electronic device such as a laptop can make it hard to fall asleep. The backlit ‘blue light’ displays suppress melatonin production – the hormone that helps you sleep. If you have trouble sleeping, avoid electronics before bed or in the middle of the night.
  • If you can’t sleep, go into another room and do something relaxing until you feel tired. This will help train your mind and body into associating your bedroom with sleep.

So many people underestimate the value of sleep. If you are having trouble sleeping, then do not hesitate to seek help and advice from your GP. To find out more about self-care, visit our blog on HOW TO INCORPORATE ‘SELF-CARE’ INTO YOUR DAILY ROUTINE.

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