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Ways to improve your sleep

One in three people in the UK experience poor sleep — so how can you improve yours?

 

Ask anyone who has ever had a disturbed night’s sleep, jetlag, or pulled an all-nighter, and they will probably be able tell you about the effects of a poor night’s sleep.  

The need for a good night’s sleep goes way beyond removing those under-eye bags, though. Just as having a well-balanced diet and exercising regularly are important for your health, so is sleeping.  

Sleep is extremely underrated and should be regarded as a high priority, just as much as eating. When we sleep, our brains connect all the information we’ve collected throughout the day, and it ensures that our bodies get the rest they need to function correctly. But why is sleep so important? 

Why is sleep so important? 

For children, sleep is vital for their development, but a good night's sleep is also critical for the health of adults too [1].  

Sleep can affect many different areas of health, including: 

  • Cardiovascular risk 
  • Diabetes risk  
  • Weight gain  
  • Immune system  
  • Mood  

Not enough sleep can cause symptoms such as: 

  • Low immunity  
  • Weight gain 
  • Poor mental health 

How to improve your sleep 

1. Get your body moving 

Exercise may seem counterintuitive when you’re tired or not getting good quality sleep. However, getting your body moving and exercising for 20–30 minutes a day (or 150 minutes a week) can help both give you energy throughout the day and make you feel more tired in the evening.  

If the gym isn’t for you, then there are many other ways to move your body and get those endorphins flowing, such as:  

  • Swimming  
  • Running  
  • Yoga  
  • Pilates  
  • Hiking  
  • Walking  
  • Dancing  

Avoid exercising at least one hour before you get into bed. Exercising too close to bedtime can make it difficult to drift off. 

2. Avoid bright lights and loud sounds before bed 

If you’re looking to get a good quality night’s sleep, watching TV or scrolling down social media on your phone is only going to stimulate your brain even more.  

Light and sound have a huge impact on your circadian rhythm (your biological clock that controls your sleep patterns). Your circadian rhythm synchronises with environmental cues, such as light. It’s the biological clock that makes you feel sleepy at night and wakes you up in the morning without an alarm [2].  

When you watch TV or scroll down social media on your phone, it may feel relaxing, but it could be what’s keeping you up at night. Instead, if you’re looking for something to do to wind yourself down for bed, why not try some light yoga, meditation, or reading a book? 

3. Don’t lie in bed awake 

Lying in bed wide awake won’t automatically make you tired. If you aren’t tired, it is best to try and get yourself in the sleep mindset before going to bed.  

Things to help you wind down include: 

  • Having a warm bath 
  • Reading a book 
  • Listening to a podcast 
  • Meditating 

If you are lying wide awake stressed about the day ahead, try writing your thoughts down — it’ll help you clear your mind. For tips on how to de-stress, read our 10 ways to de-stress blog.

4. Avoid caffeine 

Don’t worry, you can still have your morning and lunchtime tea or coffee! But switching to de-caff (or no caffeine at all) after lunchtime can help your body wind down. 

Reducing your caffeine intake can also reduce your risk of developing insomnia and sleep-disordered breathing [3]. If you’re a regular coffee drinker and still feel sleepy when waking from a good quality night’s sleep, this could be a sign that your body is relying too much on caffeine.  

Caffeine can be in things other than coffee, such as chocolate and fizzy drinks, so drinking plenty of water throughout the afternoon is advised.  

If you’re feeling peckish, though, research has shown that eating a few almonds before bed may help improve your ability to fall asleep [4].  

5. Have a consistent routine  

Going to bed and waking up at the same time every day can help regulate your circadian rhythm and help improve your quality of sleep [5].  

It’s best to set times that work for you every day (yes, including weekends). So, if you need to get up at 7 am for work, that means getting up every day at 7 am and then going to bed before 11 pm (allowing for a solid eight hours). This consistency may prove difficult to begin with but is worth it in the long run.  

Get tested 

If you feel as though you are getting good quality sleep but still feel tired, you may want to investigate whether there is something else causing your fatigue.  

Our Advanced Well Man and Advanced Well Woman tests are advanced health checks that look at your risk of heart disease and diabetes and the function of your immune system. They also tests for thyroid and vitamins to check for any imbalances or deficiencies that could be causing you to feel tired. 

Our Advanced Tiredness Fatigue Blood Test can also help you investigate why you might be feeling tired all the time. It covers many of the main causes of fatigue, including diabetes, anaemia, thyroid conditions, and vitamin deficiencies.  

 Sleep organisations that can help 

  • The Sleep Charity: The Sleep Charity, incorporating The Sleep Council, provide advice and support to empower the nation to sleep better. They offer support for adults, teenagers, and children to get a better night’s sleep. 
  • Mind: Mind explains how mental health problems can affect sleep and vice versa. They have a list of resources and contacts if you’re struggling with your mental health and getting a good night’s sleep. 

 References 

  1. Sleepfoundation.org. 2022. Why Do We Need Sleep? | Sleep Foundation. [online] Available at: <https://www.sleepfoundation.org/how-sleep-works/why-do-we-need-sleep> [Accessed 14 February 2022]. 
  2. Sleepfoundation.org. 2022. What Is Circadian Rhythm? | Sleep Foundation. [online] Available at: <https://www.sleepfoundation.org/circadian-rhythm> [Accessed 14 February 2022]. 
  3. Sleepfoundation.org. 2022. Caffeine’s Connection to Sleep Problems | Sleep Foundation. [online] Available at: <https://www.sleepfoundation.org/nutrition/caffeine-and-sleep> [Accessed 14 February 2022]. 
  4. Sleepfoundation.org. 2022. The Best Foods To Help You Sleep - Sleep Foundation. [online] Available at: <https://www.sleepfoundation.org/nutrition/food-and-drink-promote-good-nights-sleep> [Accessed 14 February 2022]. 
  5. Healthysleep.med.harvard.edu. 2022. Adopt Good Sleep Habits | Need Sleep. [online] Available at: <https://healthysleep.med.harvard.edu/need-sleep/what-can-you-do/good-sleep-habits#:~:text=Keeping%20a%20regular%20sleep%20schedule,can%20improve%20your%20sleep%20dramatically.> [Accessed 28 February 2022].