The importance of sleep
Sleep is as important to our health as eating, drinking and breathing. It allows our bodies to repair themselves and our brains to consolidate our memories and process information. Most adults need 8 hours sleep each night. Poor sleep is linked to physical problems such as weakened immune system and mental health problems such as anxiety and depression, you are also more likely to get high blood pressure, diabetes and to be overweight. The occasional night without sleep will make you feel tired the next day, but it won’t affect your health. However, after several sleepless nights, you will start to find that you:
• Feel tired all the time
• Drop off during the day
• Find it difficult to concentrate
• Find it hard to make decisions
• Start to feel depressed
• Start to worry about not being able to sleep
Some simple tips that may help achieve a restful night
• Make sure that your bed and bedroom are comfortable – not too hot, not too cold, not too noisy.
• Make sure that your mattress supports you properly. If it’s too firm, your hips and shoulders are under pressure. If it’s too soft, your body sags which is bad for your back. Generally, you should replace your mattress every 10 years to get the best support and comfort.
• Get some exercise. Don’t overdo it, but try some regular swimming or walking. The best time to exercise is in the daytime – particularly late afternoon or early evening. Later than this can disturb your sleep.
• Take some time to relax properly before going to bed. Some people find aromatherapy helpful.
• If something is troubling you and there is nothing you can do about it right away, try writing it down before going to bed and then tell yourself to deal with it tomorrow.
• If you can’t sleep, get up and do something relaxing. Read, watch television or listen to quiet music. After a while, you should feel tired enough to go to bed again.
• Don’t go without sleep for a long time. Go to bed when you feel tired and stick to a routine of getting up at the same time every day, whether you still feel tired or not.
• Caffeine hangs around in your body for many hours after your last drink of tea or coffee. There are now many fizzy drinks, and even mints, that contain a lot of caffeine. Stop drinking tea or coffee by mid-afternoon. If you want a hot drink in the evening, try something milky or herbal (but check there’s no caffeine in it).
• Don’t drink a lot of alcohol. It may help you fall asleep, but you will almost certainly wake up during the night.
• Don’t eat or drink a lot late at night. Try to have your supper early in the evening rather than late.
• If you’ve had a bad night, don’t sleep in the next day – it will make it harder to get off to sleep the following night.
• Don’t use slimming pills – many of these will keep you awake.
• If you try these tips and you still can’t sleep, go and see your doctor. You can talk over any problems that may be interfering with your sleep. Your doctor can check that your sleeplessness is not due to a physical illness, a prescribed medicine, or emotional problems.