Did you know that most people (99% of people) need between 7.5 hours and 9 hours sleep a night? Regular deprivation of sufficient sleep has been linked to increase risk of developing many serious chronic health conditions such as obesity, chronic pain conditions including fibromyalgia, depression, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, dementia and cancer.
Health benefits of a good nights sleep.
Good quality and sufficient sleep has hugely beneficial effects on the immune system and the brain helping to reduce infection and to increase learning and memory. Being “tired all the time” is one of the most common symptoms that doctors hear about.
There are a myriad of medical reasons for being tired all the time, so if you have this symptom despite having put in place good strategies for getting sufficient amounts of quality sleep then you should talk to your GP about it. Obviously, the most common reason for being tired all the time is insufficient sleep or insufficient good quality sleep.
What are the signs of not getting enough sleep?
Signs that you are not getting enough sleep include; difficulty waking up in the morning/ relying on the alarm clock to wake you. Not feeling refreshed after a night’s sleep. Difficulty concentrating and difficulty learning/remembering new things. Feeling that if you went back to bed you could sleep easily in the daytime. Nodding off to sleep in front of the TV or even at work. The most common cause of fatal road traffic accidents is falling asleep at the wheel.
Tips to follow
Here are some tips to help you to ensure that you give yourself the best opportunity to sleep 8 hours a night.
- Maintaining regular times for going to bed and getting up in the morning. It may sound obvious but you must actually allow yourself the opportunity to sleep for eight hours. If you’re not in bed for that amount of time you can’t sleep that amount of time. Our bodies work on a regular circadian rhythm that is non-negotiable, let your routine fit with your body’s needs.
- Reduce the intensity of ambient light in the evenings. Modern LED lights emit very high levels of blue light. Blue light will reduce your bodies ability to produce melatonin and essential hormone for going to sleep.
- Stop using electronic devices such as PC’s phones and tablets at least 2 hours before you want to go to sleep. These screens also emit high doses of blue light and will reduce your melatonin and prevent you going to sleep. If you must use them use the settings designed for evening use as this will reduce the blue light.
- Get outside during the day and expose yourself (not in the naked sense!) to natural light. This, with darker evenings, helps to maintain a good natural circadian rhythm.
- Set your bedrooms ambient temperature to 18.5 degrees Celsius. This may be cooler than the rest of the house but it is worth remembering that in order to sleep the bodies core temperature needs to drop. Having a warm bedroom, too many bedcovers and nice warm PJs will keep you warm and cosy but will not aid good sleep.
- Make sure your bed is comfortable. I recently had a patient complain of being tired all the time, when I asked him about his bed he finally admitted that he didn’t have one -he slept on a chair that reclined. I’m not sure how he thought he was getting enough quality sleep!
- Take a hot bath before bed. I know this sounds counterintuitive given the above point but that lovely warm glow that you get from a hot bath will draw the blood to the surface and help to cool the body’s core. Washing your face with cold water before bed also has a cooling effect that will aid sleep.
- Keep your bedroom dark. Blackout curtains are an obvious solution here to prevent early morning sunrises from rousing you too early.
- Don’t drink alcohol in the evening. Alcohol is a sedative, like sleeping pills, it may sedate you but sedation is not the same as sleep. In sedation your ability to generate REM sleep is severely diminished and this will result in fatigue the next day and an increased need to sleep as your brain craves and needs REM sleep.
- Don’t take sleeping pills, they are sedatives (see alcohol) and they are highly addictive. They also cause rebound insomnia – if you stop taking them then the insomnia will become much worse. Unfortunately sleeping pills are not even a good short term solution for insomnia. Alarmingly there is also very good evidence that using sleeping pills, even very rarely, carries a significant increase risk of death.
- Exercise. As little as 10 mins aerobic (increases the heart rate) exercise can help improve sleep quality.
- Don’t drink caffeine in the afternoon or evening. This includes tea, coffee, decaff and some soft drinks especially energy drinks like Red Bull. Did you know that caffeine has a half-life in the body of up to 8 hours? This means that it takes 8 hours for the body to remove half of the caffeine consumed. Caffeine works as a stimulant by blocking receptors for an important sleep inducing hormone (adenosine) in the brain.
- Avoid very rich, fatty or spicy foods, that may cause you digestive issues, in the evenings. This includes curry, fatty fried meals and citrus fruit.
- Daytime napping can improve mood, alertness, learning and performance but long naps may interfere with night time sleepiness. Try to limit daytime naps to 20-30 mins and do not nap in the evening before going to bed.
These tips have been described as “sleep hygiene”, if you are struggling to get to sleep or to stay asleep they are the logical first step on the path to recovery.
I can highly recommend the book Why We Sleep by Matthew Walker if this is a subject that you would be interested in further.