How to improve your sleep and why this is important

I recently wrote a series of health related articles for a company’s blog. Due to issues with the website and lack of funding to get the new company off the ground, these articles have not been published. Although I was paid for the work I did I think it’s a shame for my blog posts not to be published or read by anyone. So here is the second one in the series…

How to improve your sleep and why this is important

insomnia

Many people struggle to sleep well at some point in their life – whether you find it hard to fall asleep at night or difficult to stay asleep this can severely affect your health. Often people don’t know why they aren’t sleeping well, and even if they do they don’t know how to improve their sleep.

So what are the potential consequences of lack of sleep? Most of us have experienced feeling grumpy and irritable, and difficulty concentrating as a consequence of a poor night’s sleep. With more and more sleepless nights it will become more difficult to concentrate and make decisions. Furthermore you’re putting yourself at risk of injury at home, at work or on the road due to fatigue. Prolonged lack of sleep can also affect your immune system so you’re less able to fend of bugs. Furthermore lack of sleep can leave you prone to serious medical conditions such as heart disease, high blood pressure, obesity and diabetes. And it’s not just your physical health – chronic sleep debt is also linked to mental health issues such as depression and anxiety.

It is important to address the cause of your insomnia. Several types of drugs may contribute to sleep problems including antidepressants, some asthma drugs, heart drugs and some antibiotics. If you have started taking a new drug and noticed that your sleep is suffering it is worth consulting your doctor to find out if an alternative is available. Although alcohol makes us very sleepy, drinking makes our sleep shallower so you will still feel tired the next day and increase your sleep debt despite having slept for several hours. It is well known that caffeine can be linked to lack of sleep, particularly if you are drinking more than one or two cups of coffee or tea per day, or drinking caffeinated drinks too late on in the day. Asthma can also be linked to insomnia as symptoms often become worse at night, making it difficult to sleep. Mental health issues such as stress, anxiety and depression are also common causes of insomnia. Eating patterns are also important – hunger can keep you awake but simultaneously eating a large meal too close to bedtime can make it difficult to fall asleep.

If you have had difficulty sleeping for a long period of time, it is important to keep sleep debt in mind. That is, once you start sleeping more it will take a while to catch up on lost sleep and see the effects of sleeping well. A regular bedtime routine will help you wind down and prepare for bed, and your body will learn that this routine means it’s time to sleep. Decide what time you need to go to bed based on what time you need to get up (most adults require 7-9 hours of sleep per night). It is important to go to bed at the same time every night if you are trying to combat insomnia. Taking a warm bath, practising light yoga stretches, meditation or reading a book can help you to wind down before bed. Ensure that your bedroom is tidy and at a comfortable temperature.

Ensure that your curtains or blinds aren’t letting in too much light, and invest in some earplugs if noise wakes you up at night. Avoid doing any work in your bedroom as you want your brain to associate this room with sleep and relaxation only. Regular exercise can help people to sleep better; however do not exercise within the last four hours before you go to sleep as this will have the opposite effect. Ensure that you do not drink any caffeinated drinks during the evening or late afternoon, and try to cut down on overall caffeine consumption.

If stress is keeping you awake at night, you may have to tackle this head on. Come up with a plan on how to tackle whatever you are stressed about, so that you can sleep easy. Sleeping pills can help people to sleep more over short period of time, however if taken for long periods they can have the opposite effect, so it may be best to avoid them if possible.

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