In our latest blog UCO Associate Dario Alvino explores the importance of sleep and what we can do to improve the quality of the sleep we get.
According to the NHS and many other health associations, sleep is a very important aspect of our well-being, like nutrition and exercise.
Sleep has an essential role in correct function and regulation of several systems. It allows the brain and body to recover and plays an essential role in the function and regulation of many important areas such as memory and mood, tissue repair, endocrine functions and even pain perception.
Experts recommend getting around 8 hours per night but a recent online survey(1) found that the average person living in the UK sleeps between 5.78 and 6.83 hours per night.
In this survey, almost 23% of respondents only got between 5 and 6 hours of sleep per night. The main cause for lack of sleep was attributed to stress, followed by noise, health issues, being disturbed by a partner and too much caffeine. Surprisingly, children were the lowest ranking factor.
Why good sleep is so important
A good night's sleep doesn't just make us feel good. According to researchers (2, 3), poor sleep is associated with:
- Increased weight gain and obesity;
- Problems with memory, concentration and mood;
- Cardiovascular diseases and type 2 diabetes;
- Decreased immune function and life expectation.
Top tips to improve your sleep
According to the National Sleep Foundation and the NHS, the following healthy habits are key for better sleep quality:
Have a regular sleep schedule. This involves having the same bedtime and wake up times, even on the weekends. The brain and the other organs will get used to the routine.
Manage stress and practice a relaxing routine before bedtime. This can be achieved by reading a book, writing, listening to relaxing music, having a bath, etc. It is best to reduce strenuous activities, TV, using your mobile phone or other bright lights.
Exercise regularly during the daytime but not at the expense of your sleep.
Avoid alcohol, cigarettes, heavy meals and stimulants such as caffeine or tea.
Create a restful environment. Keep your room at a constant temperature and fit curtains or use an eye mask to block excessive lights. If it’s too noisy, consider using earplugs.
Avoid excessive daytime naps.
It is important to note that sometimes, symptoms such as snoring, excessive tiredness, difficulties concentrating, recurrent upper respiratory infections, etc., can also be a sign of undiagnosed medical conditions (e.g. insomnia, sleep apnoea, restless legs syndrome, narcolepsy, etc.). To help relieve these symptoms, appropriate investigations and diagnosis need to be made and the GP might need to refer the patient to a sleep clinic for further investigations.
- Great British Sleeping Statistic (2018). Available at: www.chemist-4-u.com/sleep-study/ [accessed on 19 May 2019]
- Altevogt, B.M. and Colten, H.R. eds., (2006). Sleep disorders and sleep deprivation: an unmet public health problem. National Academies Press.
- Medic, G., Wille, M. and Hemels, M.E., (2017). Short-and long-term health consequences of sleep disruption. Nature and science of sleep, 9, p.151.