Sleep is often understated but it plays a central role in the maintenance of health, both physical and mental. Many will have experienced the fatigue and lack of focus that follow a poor night’s sleep, however the impact of several sleepless nights’ can be more serious.
Sleep provides a way to conserve energy, similar to hibernation, and also facilitates the regulation of several health systems. Sleep is linked to the metabolic, endocrine, immune, and inflammatory systems; influencing, for example, the ability to recover from illness, susceptibility to obesity and to diabetes. Sleep also helps to protect us against age-related neurodegeneration. Poor sleep is linked to various anxiety, mood, and behavioural disorders; having a greater impact on those with specific conditions such as ADHD or autism spectrum disorders.
Signs of poor sleep include:
- Having trouble falling asleep
- Lying awake for long periods at night
- Waking up several times throughout the night
- Waking up early and being unable to fall back asleep
- Having a low mood, or feeling very fatigued, across the day
- Feeling more irritable than usual or having difficulty concentrating
How much is Enough?
Most adults need around 8 hours of sleep a night, some will require slightly more or slightly less. Children require significantly more sleep than adults (in a 24-hour period):
- under the age of one you can expect babies to sleep up to 16 hours (including naps)
- Children from one to two years old should sleep 11 to 14 hours (including naps)
- Children from three to five years of age should sleep 10 to 13 hours (including naps)
- Children aged six to 12 years of age should sleep 9 to 12 hours
- Teenagers between 13 and 18 years should sleep around 8 to 10 hours
If you have had several sleepless nights the body will have built up a “sleep debt”, the only way to improve this is to get more sleep which can take several weeks.
How to improve sleep:
- Try to maintain regular sleep hours. If you feel tired, go to bed, and try to get up at the same time each morning as this will help maintain a good sleep routine.
- Prepare yourself for a good night’s sleep. This means switching off you phone, computer etc. for about an hour before bed. You may also try having a warm bath, some light yoga, reading a book or try a sleep/ meditation app.
- Prepare a comfortable sleep environment, for some people that will mean a room that is completely dark, others may prefer a small amount of light. Most people benefit from a room that has a cool/ lower temperature, with noise levels kept to a minimum.
- Swap any caffeinated beverages for milky or herbal alternatives. Caffeine can affect not only the ability to fall asleep, but the depth of your sleep cycles, so it is a good idea to avoid tea, coffee and fizzy drinks before bed.
- Keep active. Having some exercise or activity throughout the day can help leave you feeling tired and ready to sleep at night. Though it’s not advisable to have a heavy workout just before bed as this can have the opposite effect.
- Try keeping a sleep diary to monitor your progress [NHS example here]