We all talk about the importance of a good night’s sleep for better mental and physical health. Sleep is usually a popular topic of conversation at our Wellness Retreats. Guests often ask how they can improve the quality and duration of sleep they are getting each night. It’s just one of those things we simply can’t do without. A few consecutive nights of unrest and we will start feeling it.
In our latest blog, we look at just why sleep is so vital for maximum wellbeing. What problems can arise due to sleep deprivation and what we can do to get a decent bit of shuteye each night.
Why Sleep Is So Important For Our Mental And Physical Health?
We need to sleep as much as we need to eat, drink and breathe. According to the NHS, one in three people suffer from poor sleep. This is being increasingly attributed to stress, finances and family responsibilities and more recently, the coronavirus pandemic. The need to self-isolate, social distance and even shield has caused many people to experience increased stress and anxiety. This increased pressure on our mental health will unfortunately affect how well we sleep.
Poor sleep can be be defined as waking regularly throughout the night or staying awake for more than twenty minutes after waking.
When we are asleep, our body does most of its repairing and growing. Remember the phase, ‘sleeping like a baby’. It’s why babies need to sleep so much, they have a lot of growing to do! It also enables our bodies to refresh and recharge ahead of another day. Decent sleep helps maintain a stronger immune system and fight off illnesses. Without it, our brain cannot function properly. Sleep deprivation can lead to depression, mood swings, confusion and a short temper.
The aim for most adults is approximately eight hours a night. In fact, research suggests that just six hours each night can be just as harmful as not sleeping at all.
Problems Arising From Sleep Deprivation
Feeling irritable, struggling to concentrate and mood swings are all recognised and well-catalogued symptoms that can arise when you suffer from a continued lack of sleep.
However, chronic sleep deprivation can have even more serious repercussions. High blood pressure, diabetes and depression are just some examples. In more extreme cases, life-threatening illnesses have also been linked to severe insomniacs including heart failure and strokes.
Put like this, the importance of good sleep for our mental and physical wellbeing cannot be overstated.
How to Improve Quality and Quantity of Sleep
In our experience, you will probably have to do more than one thing to improve your sleep. More likely, you will need to change a number of things and introduce some new routines, to achieve that much longed for ‘good nights sleep’.
There are many benefits to making exercise part of your regular routine, with physical exercise proven to improve the quality of ‘deep sleep’ you are getting as well as helping to improve your sleep duration.
We have talked about the benefits of everyday exercise in previous blogs and vlogs. such as practicing Mindful Walking. However, one activity that is definitely worth reiterating is Forest Bathing. We are firm believers in the many health benefits this activity can bring, including helping you sleep.
Exercise is closely linked to helping relieve stress and anxiety, both of which undoubtedly have a negative effect on how easily we can get to and stay asleep. The more we can do to reduce stress, the more likely we are to improve both our sleep quality and quantity.
However, remember that doing anything too strenuous before you try and sleep isn’t recommended, so try and do any cardio-based physical activity earlier in the day.
2) Stay Hydrated
Hard to believe but something as simple as being thirsty can cause you to wake during the night. A dry nose, throat and perhaps the snoring that results from this can all cause you to wake early. Not a difficult one to address, by simply drinking more water and/or consuming more fruit and vegetables during the day, will help (just remember to visit the toilet before going to bed!).
3) Screen Time
Anything that acts as a stimulus and increases alertness before going to sleep, is clearly not going to aid in giving you that great nights sleep you crave. In order to switch our brains off, we need to switch off our mobile phones, tablets and even the TV, approximately half an hour before bedtime. It has also been proven that the blue light emitted from mobile phone screens affects the production of melatonin. This is the hormone that actually controls our sleep-wake cycles. So, too much blue screen before bedtime and your sleep cycles will be adversely affected. This is a problem that is being increasingly cited in teens.
4) Establish A Bedtime Routine
It’s not just an old wives’ tale. The aim is to try and relax and clear your mind before hitting the bed sheets. A bedtime routine is something we are advised to do as new parents to get babies to sleep through the night. However, it’s something we often neglect doing for ourselves as adults. A bedtime routine can incorporate a number of things including a warm bath scented with lavender, a non-caffeinated warm drink (also helps with the hydration), five-minute meditation practice and so forth. For many of us, our bedtime routine will usually involve watching Netflix, checking our mobile phone, visiting the bathroom and then falling into bed. Not a problem if you don’t have any issues with sleeping. However, if you do, it’s time for a change.
5) Caffeine Intake
Speaking of caffeine, we probably all know not to drink an espresso just before bed. However, what is often not considered is just how early in the day you need to stop your caffeine consumption to make sure it doesn’t affect your ability to fall asleep. Remember caffeine is a stimulant and it’s not just coffee we need to consider but tea, chocolate and even some over the counter medicines. The latest advice is that substantial caffeine can stay in our bodies for at least six hours after consumption so ditch that late afternoon caffeine-based pick-me up.
6) Alcohol Consumption
Similar to caffeine, alcohol can affect your sleep quality in a number of ways. Firstly, alcohol causes dehydration and as explained earlier, this can cause you to wake in the night. Drinking alcohol might help you fall asleep but it can have a detrimental affect on your sleep patterns and quality of sleep. This is turn, will leave you feeling tired and sluggish the next day. Try stopping alcohol intake a couple of hours before going to bed and drinking plenty of water to help improve your sleep.
7) Sleep In A Well-Ventilated Room
Not always easy to keep the window open at night if you feel the cold or worry that chirping birds might awaken you at the crack of dawn. However, sleeping in a well-ventilated room has been shown to promote good sleep. Keeping the window slightly ajar is one way of achieving this. The reason it’s important is because without ventilation, all the carbon dioxide you are breathing out remains in the room you are sleeping in. This will reduce the oxygen levels in the room, which could interfere with your normal breathing process and in turn affect your sleep quality. Invest in an eye-mask to stop those sun rays from disturbing you, wear earplugs to block out any sound and open your bedroom window regardless of the season.
8) Write Things Down
We have talked about gratitude in a previous blog as a way to practice mindfulness in your daily life. By spending five minutes before you sleep writing what you have to be grateful for – your partner bringing you a cup of tea, a sunny day, a walk with a friend – is a useful way to not only be mindful but to help release the day’s stress away. This in turn will help clear your mind and induce a better night’s sleep.
Keep a pad and pen by our bedside and write down any ‘must dos’ before going to sleep. This will help stop any thoughts whirling around in your head, if there’s something you need to remember to do the next day. By writing it down and clearing your mind, you can relax, knowing you won’t forget about it.
9) Ditch the Lie-ins
Something worth noting is the value of going to bed and setting an alarm to wake up at a similar time each day. Yes even on weekends! It might be hard to give up those lie-ins but regular sleep hours helps programme your brain and internal body clock to get used to a set routine.
10) Seek Medical Attention
Fortunately for most of us, sleep problems can be improved by implementing many of the points above.
However, if you regularly experience difficulty sleeping and often feel tired during the day, you need to consult your GP for further advice.
Never underestimate the importance of good quality sleep. Making time during our waking hours to prepare for a good night is crucial for our health. You can also find more useful articles and resources here. Another book we have found very useful is ‘Why We Sleep’ by neuroscientist Matthew Walker. He explores and helps solve the mystery of just why good quality sleep matters.