How to get healthier while you sleep!

Not getting enough sleep can have a number of effects on us. Most of these are well known, such as feeling irritable or not functioning as well as normal, but you may not know that a lack of sleep can have a major impact on your physical health.

Poor sleep on a regular basis can increase your risk of a number of serious medical conditions, such as obesity, heart disease and diabetes, and it can also shorten your life expectancy.

What is a good night’s sleep?

If you wake up still feeling tired and find yourself thinking about having a nap during the day, it is highly likely you aren’t getting enough sleep, or the sleep you are getting is of a poor quality.

Most people need to get around 7-8 hours of good-quality sleep a night to function at their best, although the amount varies from person to person. Some may function with as little as five hours, while others could need as long as 10.

The quality of your sleep can be affected by a number of factors, such as health conditions like sleep apnoea, and your lifestyle can have an impact. Stimulants like alcohol, nicotine and caffeine all contribute to a poor night’s rest, so making changes to when you drink coffee and tea can help you feel better when you wake up, as can sticking to healthy limits when drinking alcohol. Of course, there are a number of health benefits to quitting smoking altogether, but if you do want to carry on, try not to have a cigarette just before bed.

What happens if I don’t get the sleep I need?

When we don’t get enough sleep for a single night, we may wake up feeling physically drained, be unable to concentrate on what we are doing, and may be just a little short with the people around us. However, relatively speaking, just missing out on one night’s sleep won’t have any negative impact on our health.

If this were to happen over several nights though, the effects would be more severe. It is likely you’ll experience brain fog, which makes concentration and decision-making difficult, which may have a negative impact on both your home life and professional life.

Poor sleep can also be a contributory factor for depression, so it would not be uncommon for you to start feeling down, while you may also need to nap throughout the day. Not surprisingly, you’ll also be at a higher risk of injury at home, work, and on the road.

If this pattern continues, a lack of sleep can make you prone to health conditions such as heart disease, obesity, high blood pressure and type 2 diabetes. Poor sleep is also linked to a reduced libido and lowering of fertility levels.

It is really important then that you adopt good sleeping habits, and if you’re not getting enough sleep, you try to get some more. It can take time to catch up, especially if you have had a sleeping problem for weeks or months, so be prepared for the improvement to take several weeks to wipe off that sleep debt.

It may sound counter-intuitive, but sleeping in at the weekend to ‘make up for’ poor sleep during the week can do more harm than good. This is because it confuses your body clock. Catnapping during the day may seem like a good idea, but it makes it less likely that you’ll sleep well at night. If you suffer from insomnia, set your alarm clock at the same time every day, including at weekends. Do something relaxing in the couple of hours before bed, and go to bed when you’re sleepy. If you don’t get to sleep within 20-30 minutes, get up and go into another room until you’re sleepy again.

You should also ensure you don’t rely on caffeine or energy drinks when you need a boost. This is only a temporary lift during the day, but it can have a really detrimental effect at night, which can cause you problems over a longer period of time.