Are you getting enough sleep?

By Krista Harris | 25 January 2022
5 Minute Read

By Sebastian Apter

Sleep is something a lot of people say they don’t get enough of, but something people love doing, so why is it we don’t get enough? And how can we get more sleep?

 In the UK, 48% claim they don’t get enough sleep and a quarter of the population get less than 5 hours a night.

On average adults need between 6-10 hours of sleep a night and this depends on their activity during the day and their genetics. If I was to ask you if you get enough sleep, what would be your honest answer?

Lack of sleep is a lot more severe than people think both short and long term. Although you can still function on little sleep, you aren’t functioning to your optimal ability.

If you are someone who wakes up refreshed, this might not be for you, but knowing the science behind it may help or interest you. If you know you need to get in more hours of sleep then listen up!

What are the mechanisms of sleep?

To help understand the different techniques on improving sleep or why sleep is important, then knowing the science of how it all works may help. Firstly the basics of sleeping is down to the circadian rhythm otherwise known as the ‘sleep-wake’ cycle.

This is all controlled by a chemical called melatonin which is released by the hypothalamus. Light exposure causes the release of the chemical to be suppressed. This is why during the day we are awake and tired and sleep during the night. As well as the circadian rhythm, sleep is broken into two parts: Rapid Eye Movement (REM) sleep and Non REM sleep (NREM).

During the night you cycle between both types of sleep. REM sleep is basically when the body is dreaming and processing emotions and emotional memories. NREM sleep is more complicated and contains three stages:

  • Stage 1: This is the lightest part of our sleep, lasting 5-10 minutes. This is usually when you wake up claiming you were ‘resting your eyes’. This is the preparation stage.
  • Stage 2: Around 50% of our sleep is spent in this stage. Falling into a deeper sleep you become less aware of your surroundings. You process and gather memories from that day during this stage
  • Stage 3: This is when you are in your deepest sleep during the cycle. It is also seen as the most important sleep. During this stage, your body promotes growth and repair of muscles and injury as well as using it to strengthen your immune system. Your brain during this recalls and stores declarative memories, such as general knowledge and facts learnt during the day.

Why is sleep so important?

Sleep is an essential part of living a healthy life. Lack of sleep or poor sleeping patterns have been highly linked to both physical and mental health problems including:

  • Weight gain
  • High blood pressure
  • Cardiovascular disease
  • Type 2 Diabetes
  • Depression and anxiety
  • Reduction in productivity
  • Irritability

For everyone, sleep is important. It is an important time for the body to help repair and strengthen itself. In doing this it helps reduce the risk of disease due to the immune system being strengthened.

Now for people who exercise, sleep is key to hitting the goals you want to hit. As the repair of muscles makes recovery a lot more efficient.

Cognitive and behavioural functions of the body are also affected by the amount of sleep we get. This is why some days when you don’t get a lot of sleep you feel slow and are in a bad mood.

For some people who are used to a lack of sleep, they become naturally used to these side effects. However, it is not healthy and a cause for concern meaning a need for immediate change to your sleeping schedule is required.

How do I improve my sleep?

The number one rule for sleeping and something that helps massively when it comes to sleep is being consistent with it. This is exactly like exercise, work or even your diet, if you are consistent with it you will naturally do it and see greater benefits. 

So what can you do in everyday life to help you sleep better at night and sleep through the night? Firstly, a pretty basic method is to try and get outside for 30 minutes a day. This is to quite simply get away from artificial light and into natural sunlight that resets your sleep-wake cycle. 

Another obvious and simple way to improve sleep is to reduce caffeine intake. Coffee in the morning is understandable as a way to wake up during the day. Having caffeine rich drinks before intense workouts is understandable as most of it will be burnt through the exercise.

On the other hand, the timing of caffeine intake is the key. Caffeine stays in the system for a long time (roughly 6 hours). Therefore, reducing caffeine intake after midday may help. Although caffeine does not stop us from feeling tired and sleeping, it causes disturbed sleep and the brain struggles to set a sleep-wake cycle with caffeine present.

Blue light is the brightest form of light on the light spectrum and is emitted from everyday devices like phones, TV’s Computer screens etc. The light from the screens causes a suppression of melatonin which we need for sleep.

A simple solution to this is to turn your screen displays to night mode so that they emit orange or yellow lights, rather than blue, and don’t affect your circadian rhythm. Reading before bed is a good technique to put your phone down and unwind.

Exercise is always a good way to make you feel tired and help you sleep. It has been shown people who exercise more have better sleeping patterns. 

Further tips that may help with sleep is to stop eating two hours before you plan on sleeping to avoid being in digestion mode when you should be in sleep mode. Also, watching how much you drink right before bed helps avoid the unnecessary disturbance to your sleep of having to use the bathroom! 

The takeaway

Although work and busy lives can get in the way of sleep. There are changes every one of us can make to get better quality sleep. Becoming more consistent with your sleep is key.

Try sticking with a consistent sleep routine for a month and improvements should be seen to your health and energy levels during the day. 

If you find that you are still struggling with your sleep after trying these simple habits, we advise you to seek health advice from a professional because a lack of sleep can have wider implications for your health and getting quality sleep is key to overall health and wellbeing.

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