In the UK, sleeplessness has become an epidemic, and a major public health concern. A large proportion of Britons don’t get enough sleep.
Good night’s sleep is critical to our physical and mental health, as well as our performance at work or school. On the other hand, many mental health problems such as depression and anxiety, and physical symptoms such as chronic pain, can lead to sleep disturbances.
Optimum sleep duration and sleep quality
Six to eight hours of sleep seems to be most beneficial in supporting our wellbeing. Having said that, the exact figure may vary depending on the individual.
According to a report published in Sleep Health, the main determinants of a good quality sleep are:
- Being asleep for at least 85% of the time spent in bed
- Falling asleep in less than 30 minutes once in bed
- Not waking up more than once during each night sleep
Health consequences of poor quality or insufficient sleep
Individuals who are sleep deprived, both in terms of duration and quality of sleep, are more likely to suffer from physical and mental issues including:
- Common cold
- Poor memory
- Coronary heart disease or stroke
- High blood pressure
- Increased food intake
- Type 2 diabetes
How sleeplessness contributes to these conditions is not exactly clear yet, but we know that sleep deprivation negatively affects multiple systems in our bodies. These include deleterious effects on our immune system, metabolism, hormones, and our capacity to store fat and build muscles.
It is worth acknowledging that that getting too much sleep i.e. more than 9 hours a night, is also associated with health issues.
Contributors to the sleepless epidemic
- Excessive stress and worry
- Use of electronic media
- A society requiring long hours of work and more shift-work
- Snoring and sleep apnoea
Snoring and sleep apnoea, and sleep quality
Sleep apnoea is a condition in which, due to an obstruction in the airways, air cannot enter the lungs while you are asleep. When this happens, your brain wakes you up so that you can breathe again, leading to disturbed sleep. Obesity is one of the main causes of sleep apnoea.
Snoring is very common in the population, and has been linked to poor sleep quality and daytime sleepiness.
Tips for a good sleep
- Make sure your bedroom is dark at night.You could use blinds or thick curtains to block-out light. If that is not possible, consider getting an eye-mask
- Avoid consuming spicy or heavy foodsbefore going to bed. Generally, poor diet quality and night-time eating habits have been linked to poor sleep pattern. Heavy, spicy food in particular, can disrupt sleep quality through causing indigestion and raising body temperature.
- Avoid caffeinated or alcoholic beverages. Both caffeine and alcohol compromise sleep quality. Having said that, caffeine consumption in the morning, and in moderation, is considered to be safe in terms of effects on sleep.
Alcohol disrupts sleep cycle by initially putting you into deep sleep but, then you spend the rest of the night in the light sleep stage.
- Establish a regular sleep routine. Try going to bed around the same time every night, including on the weekends
- Avoid taking naps during the day. Although such naps are very tempting, (especially if you have been sleep deprived the night before), they only put you into a vicious cycle of sleeplessness at night
- Avoid having electronic devices in the bedroom. The light emitted from electronic devices, such as smartphones, laptops and TV, block the release of melatonin a.k.a., our sleep-inducing hormone, thus making it difficult to fall asleep
- Seek out help if you suffer from sleep apnoea or snoring. You can find out more about these conditions by visiting the British Snoring & Sleep Apnoea Association
- Do a mindfulness meditation exercise(e.g. body scan meditation). Scientific research indicates that mindfulness meditation can significantly improve sleep quality
How our services can support you
Our Medical Health Coach will explore your sleep pattern, and understand how your lifestyle may be affecting your sleep quality and duration. Rachel will guide you through interventions that can help you improve your sleep.