Most of us love to fall into bed at the end of a long day, snuggling up under the blankets and waiting for a deep, comfortable sleep to let us drift off for a few hours. It’s one of life’s wonderful perks, but in the stressful and busy society we live in, this type of perk doesn’t always come easy, or at all.
Insomnia is certainly on the rise, and it is thought that one in three people suffer from sleep deprivation of some kind, e.g. due to stress, spending too much time on the computer, emotional disturbances, or simply not being comfortable enough. There are also many conditions which can affect sleep, e.g. restless legs syndrome.
Put simply, if we don’t sleep, we can’t function in the best way possible, and that can affect every single part of our lives, including work, relationships, and our general physical and mental health.
Too many sleepless nights, even nights with broken sleep, can do far more than just put you into a bad mood and make it difficult to concentrate, it can actually put you at risk of a few of the most dangerous types of conditions. We’re talking about things like diabetes, obesity, and even heart disease. Something else? Poor sleep patterns actually shorten your life! If that’s not argument enough for making sure that you get the best night’s sleep possible, then we don’t know what is!
What is The Optimum Amount of Sleep For an Adult?
We’re all different, and that means that all of us need a slightly different amount of sleep to someone else. The general recommended amount is 8 hours of sleep per night, and that needs to be good quality, e.g. not broken, and not constantly tossing and turning. If you get these recommended 8 hours, you should be able to function throughout the day normally, without lapses in concentrate and brain fog.
Put simply, you’re regularly waking up feeling like you’re still really tired, and you dream about your bed for the rest of the day, it’s a good pointer towards the fact that you’re not getting enough sleep.
How Does Sleep Actually Affect The Brain?
One of the most common signs of not getting enough sleep on a nightly basis is being irritable, snappy, and not being able to focus very well. You might forget things, not remember what you did a few minutes ago, and make mistakes. This is because when you don’t get enough sleep, your brain cells can’t communicate with each other as well as if they had enough rest. This is what leads to those moments of not being able to remember your own name, the morning after a terrible night’s sleep.
Many studies have also shown that prolonged periods of poor sleep can actually lead us to see the world in a different way to what it really is. We might become angry, irrational, and it can all lead towards depression, stress, and anxiety. The other point is that if you’re constantly tired and not getting enough rest, you’re likely to make mistakes. If this is happening at work, you’re sure to feel stressed out from the criticism you’re getting as a result from your boss.
Put simply, it’s a rather brain-related vicious circle, but it’s also one which has other effects beyond the brain too. You’re far more accident prone when you’re tired, so if you have a series of sleepless nights, your chances of a fall or an accident of some kind increases drastically. In this case, it’s not the best idea in the world to get behind the wheel of a car.
Why Sleep is So Beneficial
We sleep for a reason, and it’s not because we like our bed and we’re lazy! Our bodies and our brains need sleep in order to be able to function, and your body needs the rest in order to heal from a long day of running around at work. The immune system also needs plentiful rest, and when you don’t get enough sleep you’ll certainly notice feeling ‘run down’, i.e. you’re going to catch every virus and cold that is doing the rounds, and you’ll constantly feel ill. This can make you feel down in itself, and your mood is likely to go further south.
In addition, did you know that sleep helps with weight regulation? If you’re constantly having poor nights of sleep, you’re far more prone to obesity. Basically, if you’re getting less than 7 hours regularly, you’re at a higher risk of being overweight or obese. This is because of the lower levels of leptin, which is a chemical distributed throughout the body to make you feel full.
When this is in lower amounts, it means you’re going to eat more in order to try and feel full. It stands to reason therefore that in this case you’re going to gain weight. To add fuel to the fire, those who are sleep deprived also have more ghrelin, which is another chemical released by the brain, and is designed to stimulate hunger. Basically, you’re going to feel hungrier and you’re going to need to eat more in order to feel full.
The effects on mental health are also extremely important. Everyone knows that if you miss just one night of sleep you feel snappy the next day. Can you imagine how it feels when you miss many? Over the long term this can lead to depression and anxiety and it can also certainly cause stress, which then adds to the severity of the first two mental health conditions. Yet another vicious cycle.
Diabetes and heart disease also come into play. There is an increased risk of diabetes for those who sleep less than 5 hours a night on a regular basis. This affects the way the body signals the processing of glucose, therefore increasing the risk. In terms of heart disease, lack of sleep can increase the heart rate, and increase blood pressure. All of this puts an unnecessary amount of pressure and strain on the heart, and increases the chances of heart disease and even a heart attack.
Make Sleep Your Priority
With everything we have talked about so far, you should be feeling quite clear that sleep is important. This isn’t a luxury thing, and it’s not something you should fit in around everything else in your life - make sleep a priority!
For those who struggle with nodding off at night, there are many strategies you can use to try and tempt sleep to come your way. The more you stress about not getting sleep, the harder it will be to nod off. The key is in deep relaxation.
Far too many of us lay in bed with our phones, scrolling through social media and answering last minute emails. This is a huge mistake. The amount of stimulation this sends to the brain makes it very difficult for the brain to wind down and relax the body ahead of sleep coming your way.
Make it your mission to avoid any type of social media or highly stimulating films and music for at least an hour before you go to bed, two hours if you can. You should also avoid caffeine drinks, such as coffee and cola, and instead stick with warm milk. If you have time for a warm bath, even better.
When you get into bed, make sure the room isn’t too hot or too cold, and if it feels stuffy open a window. The temperature of a room and the amount of ventilation getting in is a major barrier to sleep in many cases. If the room is ‘just right’, and you can breathe freely, you’re going to find it far easier to fall asleep. In addition, make sure your pillows feel comfortable and the bed in general is supportive and comfortable too.
If you can follow these suggestions and avoid stimulation before bed you will find it far easier to fall asleep and have a full 8 hours, prior to your next day at work. During the weekends, try your best not to have a lie in, to try and make up for the sleep you’ve lost during the week. By doing this, you’re messing up your body clock and causing further disturbance. The idea is to try and regulate your sleep pattern, so your body falls into a natural rhythm and knows when sleep time is about to arrive. By doing this, your brain will send the right signals for relaxation, releasing the necessary chemicals for sleep.
Whilst we can easily blame fast-paced lifestyles and stress for poor sleep patterns, much of it is down to behavioral problems. By spending too much time on phones and surfing the Internet we’re not giving our brains the capacity to ready the body for sleep to come! Turn off your phone, allow your brain and body to relax, and you will find that insomnia is probably going to become a thing of the past.