Healthy sleeping habits
Whilst lots of us do understand what we should be doing in terms of exercising, and what we should and shouldn’t be eating (and some might even have that down to a fine art), lots of us tend to ignore the other health and fitness essential: sleep.
So that begs the question really, do we really know what sleeping well feels like? And how many of us are actually getting good, quality sleep?
Why should we get more sleep?
Did you know that a whopping 47% of us admit that stress or worry keeps us awake at night? And 22% of people sleep poorly most nights.
So why is sleep so important? Well, chronic sleep deprivation may result in the following:
- Less ability to focus, and problems with memory
- Emotional instability
- Immune system has impaired functioning and efficiency
- Physical changes to the way you look, e.g. dark circles under eyes
- Higher risk of developing depression
- Higher risk of obesity
- Increased likelihood of having an accident
- Risk of stroke quadruples
- Increased appetite
- Risk of type 2 diabetes may increase
- Increased risk of heart disease
- Decreased sperm count
- Higher levels of anxiety
- Body struggles to repair itself after exercise
How much sleep do we need?
We’ve all heard the ‘8 hours’ guideline, but below are recommended amounts of sleep broken down into age groups:
- Babies: 16 hours
- 3-12 year olds: 10 hours
- 13-18 year olds: 10 hours
- 19-55 year olds: 8 hours
- 55 years plus: 6 hours
Did you know that not sleeping for 16 hours is said to have a negative effect on performance that is akin to having a blood alcohol level of 0.5%.
Signs that you aren’t getting enough sleep:
- Constant feeling of hunger: Sleep affects grehlin production, the hormone that controls hunger and satiety. Not getting enough sleep can lead to over production of grehlin, which not only makes you hungry, but also makes you crave carbs and fats specifically.
- Forgetfulness: a classic symptom of sleep deprivation.
- Caffeine doesn’t help: when your morning coffee just doesn’t do anything any more, it turns into two morning coffees, which then turns into three…
- Tearfulness and irritability: when you’re missing out on restful sleep you’re not getting time to recharge emotionally.
- Waking up feeling groggy: this could actually be a sign that you’re getting too much or not enough. You should be able to tell if it’s one way or the other.
- Too many naps: if you’re always nodding off at the first available moment when sitting down, but struggle to sleep at night.
- Endless coughs and colds: it’s hard to fight off illness when you’re tired; it usually just makes you sicker.
How to improve your sleep
Here is a list of ideas of some ways that you can try to improve the quality of your sleep. Give them a try and give us some feedback on how you get on!
- Do snack on foods that are high in tryptophan (an amino acid that is needed by the body to produce serotonin – the hormone that helps to control your sleep cycles). Some of the best foods include yogurt, milk, bananas, eggs and turkey.
- Don’t snack on foods that are high in caffeine and sugar late in the day.
- Do try to avoid sleeping with your pets on the bed
- Don’t hit snooze! Any sleep that you get after that initial wake up will be fragmented and low quality, which can result in feeling fatigued during the day.
- Do set your alarm for when you need to get up, and try to set it for the same time every day.
- Don’t have a nightcap. While alcohol might help some healthy people to fall asleep quicker, it disrupts the REM phase of sleep, which may cause daytime drowsiness.
- Do try to drink herbal, caffeine free, tea before bed. Camomile in particular has been shown to have a sedative effect.
- Do set yourself a ‘tech curfew’. The blue light that is emitted by smartphones, tablets and laptops delays the production of melatonin – the hormone that induces sleep.
- Don’t watch TV late at night, it will encourage you to stay awake for longer. But do work your way through a few pages of a good book to wind down.
- Do some gentle yoga poses. Stretching both relieves some aches, and calms the mind, preparing the body for rest.
- Do try meditation. It’s tough, but clearing the mind of stresses and worries will help you drift off to sleep.
- Don’t be tempted to look at your phone if you wake up in the night. If you see any notifications / messages you’ll be inclined to check them.
- Do try dark curtains or blinds to darken the room, especially if you work shifts and need to sleep during daylight.
- Do take a warm bath or shower before bed, it can help to soothe the muscles and prepare the body for sleep.
- Don’t eat dinner too late. Lying down with a full stomach can be uncomfortable. Opt for an earlier meal and a pre bedtime snack (as above) if you’re hungry.
- Don’t make the room too hot or too cold. Between 18 and 22 degrees is the perfect temperate for a good night.
- Do try essential oils. A few drops of lavender on your sheets gives off a soothing aroma.
- Don’t drink coffee too late in the day. Caffeine affects everyone differently, so while some people might be fine to sleep after a 4pm coffee, others may want to avoid drinking caffeine after lunch.
- Do try a new mattress. If you’re feeling achy and un-rested after a night’s sleep it might be time to look at getting a new one.
- Don’t nap in the daytime if you’re struggling to sleep at night. If you’re sleeping badly at night it can be too tempting to catch 40 winks during the day, but it might be a catch 22, and actually be the thing that’s keeping you awake.
- Finally do try and get into a routine. Try a few different ones: read a book, have a bath, and do some stretches… See what works best for you and try to make it a routine.