It seems to be a sad fact of life that one of the most important things any of us can do for our general health and wellbeing is something that many of us do not get enough of, something that almost half the adult population are lacking in: a good night’s sleep. Hang on a second, is it not a bit overblown to say that sleep is one of the best things that you can do for your general health and wellbeing. Well actually no. No it is not overblown. It is not an exaggeration. It is not hyperbole. In fact if anything, it is playing down sleep’s importance in your life. Sleep is more than just downtime when it is dark. It is even more than just a way to recharge the batteries. In fact, sleep is one of the most important health and wellbeing influencers in your life. In this article we will explore whether you are getting enough sleep, but before that we'll have a look at why it is so important.
The importance of sleep
While some scientists are still trying to find the ‘reason’ that we sleep, others are actually finding the various ways in which sleep is important to our health and wellbeing. And their findings may shock you. Thus far they have shown that sleep is critical for: memory recall; appetite regulation; illness recovery; blood sugar levels; toxic waste removal from the brain; mood and emotion regulation and many more physical and psychological functions. Even getting just an hour or so less than you need on a regular basis can have a range of short term and long term health effects. In other words, making sure you are getting enough sleep is not just important so you do not feel tired the next day but can actually have a massive impact on your life in a vast array of ways.
How do you know how much you need?
One of the most obvious questions then is how much sleep do you need? Knowing that will make it easy to determine whether you are getting enough, right? If only it was as easy as that. There are no hard and fast rules, though there are averages. The average adult should get around 6.5-7.5 hours a night, though this can vary by several hours on either side. While there is a myth that as you get older you need less sleep this is not true. The reality is that it is just harder to sleep. However, when someone is a teenager, they do actually need more sleep, so if your teen seems to be spending more time in bed, let them.
Alright, so if there are no hard and fast set times, then how can you know how much sleep you need? The aim here is to let your body tell you. Because sleep is so important, you should actually spend so time focusing on working this out. You may even want to keep a sleep diary for a bit. Write down in the morning how much you have and work out how you feel during the day. Go over the diary after a few weeks and see if there is a pattern. This may be best done in your holidays or when you do not need to get up for work.
How will you know if you are not getting the right amount of sleep?
Most of you will have a fairly good idea already of whether you are getting enough sleep, the signs and symptoms should be pretty obvious. You will feel tired (obviously!), cranky and slow. However, while most of us are aware of the consequences of not getting enough sleep, not as many know of the dangers of getting too much. Yes, you can get too much. In fact, it is actually almost as dangerous as getting to little. While often the symptoms of getting too much sleep are similar to not getting enough, for some people it is more like a brain fog than a physical exhaustion. Either way, you need to be wary of the symptoms
But this is not always enough, as for many people out there, and the estimates vary from about a quarter of all adults to a half, the issue is that they never get enough sleep. In other, words, they may not even know what it is like to have a decent night’s sleep as it has been so long and they may just think that this is normality. This is the most dangerous, the ongoing state of not getting enough sleep. Many accidents and mistakes in work and life can be put down to chronic exhaustion. If you are someone that always feels tired, that is constantly suffering from irritability, memory troubles, depression, weight problems or it takes you a long time to recover from injury or illness then you may be chronically exhausted. In fact, if for any reason you simply do not feel as ‘good’ as you should or once did, there is a high chance that at least part of the reason is that you are exhausted. Almost half the adults in the Western world are, so you have a one in two chance.
What can you do?
So what can you do? How are you going to overcome this problem? Well, there are a number of things you can do, though they obviously all focus on ensuring that you are getting a good amount of sleep each night. First thing is to work out how much you need, see above. Then you need to work out why you are not getting enough each night. It may be as simple as that you are not going to bed early enough, or that you are trying to do too much in the day, or that you are stressed and struggle to get to sleep early enough. You need to take a long hard look at your life and you need to be honest with yourself about why you are not getting enough sleep. Once you have done this you can try to change your life so you get enough sleep. There are also a few general changes you can make that we know will help.
The key changes to ensure that you are sleeping well.
While there are no magic bullets when it comes to sleep there are some great things you can do that will increase your chances of sleeping well. All are easy and all will help. The thing with sleep is that you need to be consistent and persistent. Nothing will be an instant or easy solution, but over time you can improve your sleep life. These are tried and true changes that are all backed up by scientific knowledge. Here goes
• Go to bed and get up at the same time every day, even in the weekend. The body craves routine, by doing this you work with your body’s natural cycles.
• Make your bedroom into a sleep inducing environment. It needs to be dark, quiet and temperate with good airflow.
• Relax before you go to sleep. Some people read, others have a bath. Find something that will help you calm down and get ready for sleep.
• Avoid bad foods and drinks and consume the good ones. Things like herbal teas, dairy, cereals, cherries and bananas are all good for sleep. Junk food, rich food, fatty food and spicy food are bad, as is sugar drinks, caffeinated drinks and alcoholic drinks.
• Make sure that you bed is comfortable and supportive, that you have good pillows and your doona is right for the season.
• Try to expose yourself to as much natural light during the day, and avoid unnatural light close to bed time. This includes any smart phones and tablets in bed, these can inhibit sleep and should not be used late at night.
• Get exercise each day, the more you get the better you will sleep.
If you are still struggling to get enough sleep after putting all of these in place then you may need to seek professional help. It is important to remember that sleeping pills are not a good solution over the long term as they do not offer the same quality of sleep and can soon become addictive. There are however lots of great natural sleep aids that can help you. We have a huge range of different articles that cover many aspects mentioned here in our archive, so have a look through and you will be able to find some great ways of sleeping better for a healthier and happier life.
If you enjoyed this article you might also find the below of interest:
The dangers of driving when tired
What damage is screen time before bed inflicting on your health?
18 amazing facts about sleep
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