Home Health & Wellness Doctor Explains Why Sleep Is So Important – Here Are 6 Ways You Can Boost Yours

Doctor Explains Why Sleep Is So Important – Here Are 6 Ways You Can Boost Yours

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Sleep affects almost every tissue and system in the body, from the brain, heart, and lungs to metabolism, immune function, mood, and disease resistance. Most adults need between six and nine hours of sleep every night. However, one in three of us suffers from poor sleep. Poor sleep can lead to sleep deficiency, which can be dangerous long-term. Dr Natasha Fernando, medical director at home blood-test provider Medichecks is here to debunk common myths about sleep, and explain how to improve your sleep quality so you can feel your best.

Reasons for sleep deficiency

  • Not getting enough sleep
  • Disrupted sleep or not sleeping long enough
  • Daytime naps mean your body clock is out of sync
  • Having a sleep disorder that prevents you from getting enough sleep or causes poor sleep quality

What causes a bad night’s sleep?

Mental health

Your mental health and quality of sleep are closely linked. Poor mental health may affect your ability to get to sleep, and poor sleep can affect how you feel the next day.

If you find it hard to fall asleep, stay asleep, or wake up earlier than you would like to, then you may be experiencing insomnia. Panic attacks, flashbacks, nightmares, or psychosis can disturb you when you are asleep, and a low mood or low self-esteem may make it hard for you to wake up or get out of bed.

Poor sleep could also be due to stress. Medichecks’ stress cortisol saliva tests can help you understand your stress levels over the day and see if your cortisol could be affecting your wellbeing, or sleep pattern.

Shift work

Night workers make up 12% of the UK workforce. If you work shifts, your sleeping pattern and circadian timing can be affected. Long-term, 10–30% of shift workers are diagnosed with shift work sleep disorder, where they have experienced chronic sleep and circadian disruptions.

Sleep and circadian timing are both essential biological processes that affect many aspects of physical and mental health. Working shifts can heighten your risk of sleep problems, occupational and driving accidents, and health conditions such as cardiovascular disease. People who work shifts tend to have shorter and poorer quality sleep during the day.

If you work shifts, take extra care to make sure you are getting enough quality sleep.

Environment

Using electronic devices in the hours before bed can lead to disrupted sleep. Other environmental factors that may influence sleep include:

  • Temperature. We sleep best when our environment is colder than usual at night. If your room is too warm, then it may be affecting your sleep.
  • Noise. Limit the noise around you. If this is not an option, try listening to music that has binaural beats at a delta frequency of 3 Hz—the same wavelengths that your body emits during deep sleep.
  • Too much light. If it is too bright, your body may resist falling asleep. A black-out blind or sleep mask can help. Limiting blue light an hour before bedtime can also help with getting better sleep.
  • Safety. Sleeping can make you feel very vulnerable. Make sure you know that your doors are locked, and your house is safe before going to sleep.
  • Eating or drinking too close to bed. Avoid alcohol or eating a large meal close to bed. Alcohol is likely to cause disruptions to your sleep cycle by blocking REM sleep, interrupting your natural sleep-wake rhythm, its diuretic effect (multiple trips to the bathroom), and poor temperature control.

How can sleep affect your health?

Poor sleep can affect both your mental and physical health. Here are six ways that sleep positively impacts your health.

  1. Boost immunity. A prolonged lack of sleep can disrupt your immune system, meaning you are less able to fight off common colds and viruses.
  2. Help you lose weight. People who sleep less than seven hours a day tend to gain more weight than those who get more than seven hours. This could be due to the reduced levels of leptin (the chemical that makes you feel full) and increased levels of ghrelin (the hunger-stimulating hormones) when sleep-deprived.
  3. Benefit your mental health. Chronic lack of sleep may lead to long-term mood disorders like depression or anxiety.
  4. Prevent diabetes. People who sleep less than five hours a night have an increased risk of developing diabetes. Missing out on deep sleep changes the way the body processes glucose, leading to type 2 diabetes.
  5. Ward off heart disease. Sleep deprivation is linked with increased heart rate and blood pressure and higher levels of chemicals linked with inflammation, which may put extra strain on the heart.
  6. Support fertility. Regular sleep disruptions can cause infertility by reducing the secretion of reproductive hormones.

6 Tips for better sleep

  1. Exercise during the day. 20–30 minutes of exercise a day can help you feel tired later on but do not exercise too close to your bedtime. 
  2. Avoid bright lights and loud sounds before bed. Avoid watching TV and using your phone in your bedroom, as the blue light can affect your circadian rhythm, keeping you awake.
  3. Do not lie in bed awake. If you’re tossing and turning, try relaxation techniques, reading a book or listening to a podcast until you feel tired. 
  4. Take time to wind down. Taking a warm bath, writing a list to organise your thoughts, or listening to relaxing music can help you wind down and decompress after a busy day.
  5. Avoid caffeine. Switch to de-caffeinated drinks from about midday onwards and avoid caffeine in the evening before going to bed.
  6. Have a consistent sleep schedule. Going to bed and waking at the same time every day can help sync your circadian rhythm and help you get a better quality of sleep. Even if you don’t get a good night’s sleep, make sure you still get up at the same time. That includes weekends, too.

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