Sleep is a primary function of life, we need to do it every day to stay alive so why is it so difficult for some of us? The thought of drifting off into a deep relaxing sleep in a soft bed, clean sheets, quiet room and waking up feeling relaxed, sounds like heaven, but for many of us it is a long way from the truth.
For many of us the reality is working until late, rushing around to get home, doing some chores, maybe sorting the kids out, eating later than you had planned, only to slump exhausted in front of a TV screen. By the time bedtime comes you are shattered but know you will either spend hours staring at the ceiling, or drop off only to wake up in the night with your mind racing. With your last few hours before bed being so hectic is it any wonder that four out of five people complain of disturbed or inadequate sleep!
Getting eight hours of sleep a night is usually optimum for most people. But half of us only get six or less hours each night.
How much harm can less pillow time really do though?
Persistent lack of sleep is not only frustrating, leaving you feeling grumpy, it impacts on your health. Over time, a continued lack of sleep affects your health and well-being and puts you at an increased risk of:
- Weight gain
- Raised blood pressure which can lead to heart disease
- Shortened life expectancy
- Reduced immunity
How can a lack of sleep be causing my weight gain?
- When you’re tired you tend to crave high sugar and salt foods that give you an instant satisfaction, such as junk food and chocolate, but they don’t sustain your body for a long time, so you end up consuming more calories.
- You may also eat in the night if you can’t sleep, again consuming calories you wouldn’t otherwise if you were asleep.
- Sleep deprivation lowers your leptin levels which is the chemical that triggers you to feel full but increases your ghrelin level, the hormone that makes you feel hungry, making you want to eat more food
- Feeling tired and sleepy often also leads to decreased physical activity during the day, which can also lead to more weight gain
And whilst the bedroom should mainly be used for two things; sleep and sex, without one you may find the other lacking. If you don’t get enough sleep you can reduce your libido and it can even affect your fertility by lowering the levels of your reproductive hormones.
What can I do to get a good night sleep?
- Invest in a new bed – A bed as little as six years old could offer less support than a new one and after 10 years it will have deteriorated by as much as 70%.
- Make your bedroom your sanctuary – Keep it tidy and free from clutter and technology. Invest in a pair of blackout curtains and ensure it isn’t too hot or cold.
- Get into good habits early – Turn off technology at least an hour or two before you want to go to sleep to give yourself a chance to wind down. Set a regular bedtime and try to stick to it.
- Eat earlier and eat the good stuff – Digesting food late in the evening can sometimes disrupt sleep. Try to eat earlier and avoid caffeine, alcohol and highly spiced or highly fatty foods as they can impact negatively on your sleep. Instead, opt for simple protein based food, such as eggs, lentils, chicken or fish, with healthy carbohydrates like beans and pulses, sweet potato, wholemeal pasta or brown rice.
- Exercise – Moderate regular exercise can help to promote a good night’s sleep by releasing built up stress and tension while the post-exercise release of endorphins, your happy hormone, can help reduce worry. This doesn’t necessarily mean hitting the gym, you could try yoga at home or taking the dog for a walk and you don’t have to do this in the evening, find a time that suits you.
- Relaxation techniques – Anything from simply taking a few deep breaths to consciously allowing your body to feel relaxed and heavy while lying down can help get better sleep. If your mind races when you’re in bed, try saying the letters of the alphabet or the words of a favourite song out loud to distract your thoughts. With the help of a specialist, cognitive behavioural therapy could help you learn to think differently, reducing your stress and anxiety levels.
- Alternative therapies – The key is finding the one that is right for you. Some people find real benefit from them and other don’t. But if you’re not sleeping it is worth a try. Lavender is a flower with a relaxing scent that has been used to promote sleep for centuries.
- Medication – There is a range of medicines, some herbal and some not available to help you sleep. If you are already taking medicines, check with a healthcare professional before buying to ensure they don’t affect your prescribed medicines. Non-herbal sleeping medicines can be bought from a pharmacy or can be prescribed by a doctor; however, these should only be used for short-term relief and should not be relied upon.