Feeling tired, but can’t fall asleep?
Or maybe you fall asleep, but find yourself wide awake in the middle of the night and then not feeling rested the next day?
We’ve all had poor sleep like this at one time or another- sleeping difficulties are common in the general population and often correlate to these four areas:
- Stress: Our mind and body need to find peace to be able to get a good night’s sleep. Worries, feeling under pressure or a stressful life event can interfere with our sleep.
- Mental Health Problems: alongside other symptoms, sleep disturbance frequently appears when people suffer from episodes of depression and anxiety. If this feels like what’s going on for you, get in touch with your GP to talk things through.
- Physical Health Problems: The most commonly reported sleep disorder is sleep apnoea [read more about it here], however other conditions such as musculoskeletal disorders can also threaten a good night’s rest.
- Lifestyle factors: Often overlooked, but optimising your habits around sleep are remarkably important! Sleep experts call this ‘sleep hygiene’. If you find yourself drinking caffeine too close to bedtime, spending too much time staring at a bright screen before bed, or living a very sedentary lifestyle this could also be why you are having trouble sleeping.
Why is sleep important for wellbeing?
When you sleep, several processes are taking place. A small area in your brain acts as the body’s internal clock, and regulates your ‘circadian rhythm’. As it gets dark, your brain releases the sleep promoting hormone melatonin. Your body’s unique balancing system also kicks in to manage the natural chemicals that have built up during the day. During several ‘cycles’ of sleep overnight, these and other processes help the cells in your body to develop and repair themselves. In fact, almost every system in the body relies on sleep to recover – from the brain and the heart, to immune function and our metabolism. Therefore, sleep is essential for the restoration of the mind and the body.
How does sleep effect productivity?
A challenge of the ‘always on’ work culture now, is the risk that we don’t spend enough time resting. The occasional sleepless night can make us feel pretty worn out, however, when our sleep is compromised over longer periods, more issues can arise. Poor sleep can potentially affect our physical health, eg: increasing our risk of developing diabetes and high blood pressure, as well as negatively impacting our mental wellbeing as we feel fatigued and less content.
Without enough sleep, there can be signs of reduced cognitive and executive brain function, such as decreased attention, slowed responses, problems with memory consolidation, reduced creativity and problem-solving skills, and even decreased interpersonal skills.
So, how much sleep do I need?
The amount of sleep a person needs varies between individuals and is affected by your age, with younger people needing more shut-eye! On average, adults need 7-9 hours of sleep per night. Most of our deep sleep occurs in the first half of the night and we spend more time in the lighter stages of sleep in the morning hours.
Can’t I just catch up on sleep at the weekend?
Research looking into chronic sleep deprivation has shown that even after a long catch up sleep, performance will pick up for a few hours, but then deteriorate again.
Now that you’ve read this far and understand the impact of poor sleep, you might be thinking, “What can I do?” Well, if you or someone you know is having sleep problems, here are a few things you can try:
- Have a regular sleep schedule. For some, remote working may have provided a welcome increase in sleeping hours, but even so, try and stick to a routine when it comes to bed time and waking up. Try not to take daytime naps after 3pm, it will make it harder to get to sleep in the evening. Keeping your circadian rhythm stable aids long-term sleep quality.
- Give yourself time to wind down before bed. Do something relaxing. This could be taking a warm bath, some relaxation exercises, reading a book or listening to some gentle music.
- Get some light! But avoid screen time just before bed. Spending time in the daylight sends important signals to our brain to be awake. The blue light that many electronic devices emit can affect your circadian rhythm by tricking your brain into thinking it is still daylight, thereby stopping it releasing the sleep promoting hormone melatonin.
- Create an optimal bedroom environment for sleep. An uncomfortable temperature, noise, or a room that is too bright can all interfere with sleep. Move clocks out of view and, if possible, keep your bed a work-free environment to make sure it is a relaxing, sleep-friendly space.
- Avoid drinking caffeine too late in the day. Drinking coffee too late in the day can stimulate your nervous system and make it harder for you to relax and fall asleep at night. In fact, research has shown caffeine can stay in your body for 6-8 hours. So, if you are sensitive to caffeine, it is best to avoid drinking coffee after 3-4pm.
- Exercise a few hours before bed. Studies have shown regular, moderate-intensity aerobic exercises can lead to better sleep. Just a 30-minute exercise session can help you fall asleep in a shorter amount of time and stay asleep for a longer duration overall!
So, if you have not been getting a good night’s rest, why not try some of these quick and easy home remedies to help you fall asleep and allow your body and mind to recover to keep your body healthy and mind sharp!
Please note: If you have a more persistent or severe problem with sleep, do speak to your GP and seek professional help.