The other night I was tossing and turning in bed, struggling to get a good night’s sleep, wondering ‘why me?’ When I arrived at work the following morning one of my colleagues had also had a sleepless night. It turns out that this is by no means a rare occurrence – nearly a third (30%) of people in the UK sleep badly most nights and 35% of us have experienced sleep problems for over five years. Even worse, one in five of the population have slept poorly for the last 10 years. What’s causing us to sleep poorly and how can we address it?
Poor sleep reflects the amount of sleep we get, as well as the quality of our sleep. Although the amount of time we need to sleep differs slightly for each individual, it’s recommended that adults have 7 to 9 hours’ sleep per night. 74% of us get less than the minimum recommended 7 hours of sleep each night, which over time can build up and cause a ‘sleep debt’ that can negatively impact our wellbeing.
There are five stages of sleep that we all need to pass through to get a good night’s sleep. The first two stages are forms of light sleep which bridge the gap between being awake and asleep, whereas the other three stages are deeper. We need to spend enough time in each of these stages to get good quality sleep. The quality of our sleep can affect our mental health – those of us who experience anxiety may not get enough deep sleep.
How does sleep affect our wellbeing?
Sleep is essential for maintaining good mental and physical health. A good night’s sleep repairs and restores our bodies and brains. Sleep is linked to many of the key themes associated with our wellbeing:
- Learning – whilst we are asleep our brains consolidate information that helps us learn and function effectively during the day. This is why it’s better to get a good night’s sleep before an exam rather than cramming all night.
- Creativity – our brains reorganise our memories and pick out emotional details while we sleep, which helps us to come up with creative ideas.
- Connecting – poor sleep can lead to poor relationships with others. In a national survey, 21% of respondents said their relationships were affected by a lack of sleep. Furthermore, four times as many people with insomnia reported relationship problems compared to good sleepers.
- Physical health – feeling fatigued is the most common problem linked to poor sleep, however those who frequently experience sleepless nights are also at risk of a weakened immune system, making them more susceptible to illness.
Where are we going wrong?
When we struggle to nod off, 25% of us turn to alcohol to help us drift off to sleep. Alcohol may help us feel drowsy and fall asleep, but it actually reduces the quality of sleep we get. We get less deep sleep after drinking alcohol, which means we wake up feeling tired.
Our reliance on our smartphones and other digital devices can disrupt the body’s internal clock, making it harder for us to fall asleep. The blue light that these devices emit stimulates the brain and makes us feel more alert, meaning falling asleep takes much longer.
4 simple changes we can make to improve our sleep
There are many different methods that can help improve our sleep patterns and the quality of sleep we get. Today’s activity will focus on 4 simple steps that can be taken to improve your sleep.
- Set a regular bed time. Going to sleep at the same time each night will help your body get ready to go to sleep, which should make falling asleep easier.
- Have your last meal of the day at least two hours before you go to bed. Eating close to bed time can reduce the quality of sleep you get, as your body will be digesting what you have eaten rather than preparing to sleep.
- Be more mindful of what you drink. Caffeine and alcohol can both disrupt your sleep pattern but in different ways. As mentioned above, alcohol can make you feel drowsy but reduces the quality of sleep you get. Caffeine stimulates the brain, making it difficult to get to sleep or stay asleep.
- Wind down before bed. Relaxing before bed time can help your body prepare for sleep. The previous steps have covered how to physically prepare your body for sleep, but it’s important to be relaxed mentally as well.
The worksheet provides further information and questions for you to answer to make these changes to improve your sleep and your wellbeing.
Click the link below to download the worksheet. You can fill it in using the ‘fill and sign’ tool or alternatively print it off and fill it in by hand.
If making any of these changes improves your sleep and your wellbeing, please do get in touch and share your story!
I share wellbeing-related research, news and stories on twitter and Instagram in between weekly blog posts so do follow @15minwellbeing on both platforms to keep up to date.