You may not have known this, but the month of September has been coined ‘Sleeptember’ – an awareness month looking at how you can achieve better sleep and what benefits good sleep can bring.
Personally, I find I excel at sleeping… it is something I love almost as much as food (clearly I’m a fairly simple being!). There’s nothing I love more than a Sunday afternoon nap and I frequently treat myself to a nice early night. In fact, on Thursday I tucked myself up at 9.30pm, getting – according to my Fitbit – a hearty 8 hours and 50 minutes of Zzzz’s.
However, I am also well aware that I am extremely lucky with how naturally sleep comes to me. I have friends for whom sleep is a nightly battle that has serious repercussions on their daily lives. Who, for whatever reason, find themselves awake at 2am, dreading how they will feel at their 6.30am alarm.
Since it is Sleeptember, I decided to do exactly what The Sleep Council says this month is about – find out why sleep is so important, and explore how to achieve great sleep.
Now it is fairly unsurprising that long-term sleep deprivation is linked to serious physical health conditions including heart disease, diabetes and stroke. However, sleeping patterns are also linked to our emotions and even how our brain behaves. Jacob Nota and Meredith Coles at Binghamton University have discovered not only that subjects who slept less were more likely to experience ‘repetitive negative thoughts’, but also that this was true of subjects who got sufficient sleep later at night. So not only should we be aware of the hours of sleep we get, but also the timing (I personally try to be nodding off before 11!). Indeed Nota and Coles are supported by Matthew Walker – Professor of Neuroscience and Psychology at the University of California, Berkeley. Walker found that people who had inadequate sleep were 60% more reactive to negative pictures compared to well rested subjects – lack of sleep amplifies the negative emotional response of the brain meaning that sleep deprivation makes us feel less happy.
And sufficient sleep has been shown to equate with feeling more happy. In a survey of 8,250 British adults by the National Centre for Social Research and analysed by Oxford Economics, subjects were asked about happiness and wellbeing and the results were compared with 18 questions on lifestyle. It was shown that ‘Better sleep is the biggest single contributor to living better. Over 60% of the group living very well felt rested most or all of the time after sleep – but less than 5% of the group struggling felt this way’… not only does bad sleep have negative consequences on your emotions, but good sleep has been equated with overall happiness.
So, onto the second facet of Sleeptember… how can we achieve good sleep?
Now I am certainly not saying it is always easy, but certain things really affect how you sleep:
Routine is crucial for regular sleep. If you go to sleep and wake up at the same time every day, it helps to regulate your body clock so that falling asleep and staying asleep becomes much easier. Note that the current NHS guidelines suggest that most adults need between six and nine hours of sleep per night in order to function well both mentally and physically – so make sure your routine allows this.
It can also help to have a regular routine before sleep. This could involve having a warm bath (which will also help your body to reach an ideal temperature for rest), doing relaxation exercises such as yoga stretches or meditation or simply reading a book.
The environment in which you sleep is hugely important and experts claim there is a strong association in people’s minds between sleep and the bedroom. This means it is important to remove electrical gadgets such as TVs, computers or phones from the bedroom as they weaken this mental association. Ideally, the bedroom should be dark, quiet and tidy with a temperature between 18°C and 24°C.
It isn’t just a sales technique by Dreams! You really do need a comfortable, supportive mattress and pillows for a good night’s sleep AND, according to The Sleep Council, you should be replacing the mattress after seven years.
Finally, if you are struggling to sleep at night, it can be a really good idea to keep a Sleep Diary. Tracking the quality of your sleep every day can reveal underlying conditions that might explain your insomnia such as lifestyle habits or daily activities that are hindering your sleep. Here is one from Loughborough University, recommended by the NHS.
So Hubbers, if you are struggling to sleep, make use of Sleeptember. Have a go at making changes that might help your sleeping patterns and, just maybe, by October you’ll find yourself far better rested… and happier for it!