Please keep awake through this helpful guide about improving your sleep…
We spend about a third of our lives asleep, and for good reason: sleep is vital for maintaining good health as it helps us to recover from mental as well as physical exertion. If you feel that you could benefit from improving your sleep, the guide below may provide a good starting point!
A good night’s sleep and being healthy go hand in hand: poor sleep can increase the risk of having poor health, and poor health can make it harder to sleep. Common mental health problems like anxiety and depression can often underpin sleep problems, so it is important to pay attention to your sleeping, and to improve it if necessary.
Speaking out about our mental health, an important aspect of our daily lives, is something many people will have to face at some point in their lives. We’ve all heard the unhelpful advice of ‘getting out of bed and pulling yourself together’. Lethargy, tiredness, and disturbed sleep can be part of having a mental health issue, and reducing the stigma of mental health for everyone will go some way in realising what factors can cause or exacerbate certain symptoms.
Don’t Sleep on It
We can all benefit from improving the quality of our sleep. For many of us, it may simply be a case of making small lifestyle or attitude adjustments in order to help us sleep better.
Especially challenging in shift-based work or where safety is critical – watch out for that forklift – it’s even more important to make sure we get the right amount of good quality sleep. We’re said to need at least eight hours sleep a night, but the truth is that it varies for everyone. What matters is that you find out how much sleep you need and then try to achieve it. As a rule, if you wake up tired and spend the day longing for a chance to have a nap, it’s likely that you’re not getting enough kip.
Up to one third of the population may suffer from insomnia (lack of sleep or poor quality sleep) or other sleep problems. These can affect mood, energy and concentration levels, our relationships, and our ability to stay alert and function at work during the day.
Everyone’s experienced the fatigue; short temper and lack of focus that often follow a poor night’s sleep. An occasional night without sleep makes you feel tired and irritable the next day, but it won’t harm your health. After several sleepless nights however, the mental effects become more serious. Your brain will fog, making it difficult to concentrate and make decisions. Your risk of injury and accidents at home, work and on the road also increases.
Shockingly, sleep deprivation is proven to be just as dangerous as drink-driving. Research conducted by the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety in Washington D.C found that drivers who reported having slept for less than four hours had “crash risks” similar to what’s been documented in drivers with blood alcohol concentrations. The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence takes this further, finding that driver sleepiness may contribute to around 20% of accidents on long journeys.
How to Sleep
If you don’t get enough sleep, there’s only one way to compensate – getting more! Often basic techniques can improve your sleep. The Mental Health Foundation states that there are four simple things to consider you to help ‘HEAL’ a period of poor sleep:
Mental health problems like depression and anxiety often go hand in hand with sleep problems. It’s important to get any health concerns addressed both for helping physical symptoms and for addressing any worries that might keep you awake
Eating healthily and getting regular exercise are great ways of helping yourself sleep better. However, plan your meals and exercise to avoid exercising or eating a big meal after mid-evening: doing either of these too close to your bedtime can stop you from sleeping.
Where you sleep is important, and the bedroom and bed should be a place you associate with sleep. Watching TV, playing with phones or screens, or eating in bed can all play a part, while temperature, noise levels and light all affect our sleep. If you find yourself experiencing poor sleep, try keeping a sleep diary to see if there are patterns which can help identify a problem.
It is easiest to get to sleep when we can relax and let go of concerns. We’ve all had a night where we lie awake and worry. In the time before we go to bed, we should try and wind down and be less stimulated. These days this can be harder than ever, but relaxation techniques, a warm bath or mindfulness practice can all help. If you find you can’t get to sleep, it is always best to get up, perhaps make a warm milky drink, and then try again when you feel sleepier. It can be tempting to turn on the TV or phone screen but this may stimulate you and make it harder to nod off.
What and when you eat and drink can affect your sleep. Stimulants like caffeine can make it harder to sleep, and a heavy or sugary meal close to bedtime can make sleep uncomfortable. Alcohol might seem to help you get to sleep, but it reduces the quality of sleep later. Taking exercise during the day is also a good way of improving your sleep, but exercise releases adrenaline, so exercising during the evening may be less helpful.