We all make sure that we look after ourselves. We eat well and try to fight the temptation to eat sugary or fatty foods – a hard battle to win. We exercise often, whether it’s a vigorous workout at the gym or it’s a walk with your furry friend. We watch what we drink and limit our alcohol intake. But do you make sure you get a good sleep every night? It’s often overlooked, but getting a good sleep is important for both our mental and physical health,1 with sleep deprivation having profound consequences on them.
You can read more about the connection between sleep and mental health in our topic, ‘Mental Health and Sleep’.
One in three of us suffer from poor sleep,2 with the effects of a lack of sleep, like grumpiness or not working at your best, making our days a challenge. However, the cost of sleepless nights is more than just a bad mood and lack of focus. Regular poor sleep can put you at risk of medical conditions, including obesity, heart disease, and diabetes. Missing out on sleep on consecutive nights can even shorten your life expectancy!3 A good night’s sleep is essential for a healthy life.
How Much Sleep Do We Need?
Generally, you should be getting eight hours of good-quality sleep every night in order to function properly.4 However, some people may need more than this, and others may need less. You should find out how much sleep you need and then try to make sure that you get it every night.
As a general rule, if you wake up tired and spend the day longing for a nap, it’s likely you’re not getting enough sleep. A good way to find out how much sleep you need is to go to sleep without setting an alarm clock. Check what time you go to bed and wake up naturally. When you wake up, check the time and you’ll find out how long you slept for. You could do this over a couple of nights if possible – this way, you’ll see if your sleeping hours are consistent.
A variety of factors can lead to poor sleep, including health conditions such as Sleep Apnoea.5 Sleep Apnoea is a disorder in which your breathing pauses while you sleep. You’ll wake up and your breathing will resume without any trouble, and you’ll fall back asleep. However, these brief awakenings can happen many times during the night – this can lead to sleep deprivation. Find out more about Sleep Apnoea here.
Poor sleep could also be linked to bad sleeping habits,6 such as irregular sleep patterns, an inconsistent bedtime routine, or not having a good sleeping environment. Your sleep can also be harmed by using technology before going to bed. Find out more about this in our article, ‘Technology’s Impact On Your Sleep’.
What Happens If You Don’t Sleep Well?
We’ve all experienced the fatigue, short temper, and lack of focus that follow a poor night’s sleep. An occasional night without sleep makes you feel tired and irritable the next day, but it won’t harm your health.7
However, after several sleepless nights, the effect on your mental health can become more serious.8 You’ll find it difficult to concentrate and make decisions. You’ll also find that your mood is low – poor sleep can even lead to developing depression or anxiety.
You may also find yourself falling asleep during the day, and your risk of injury and accidents at home and work also increases.9
Plus, poor sleep makes you more likely to be prone to accidents while driving. If you’re unable to concentrate or struggle to keep your eyes open, you shouldn’t drive. Studies have shown that drivers don’t just fall asleep at the wheel suddenly. Instead, they’ve tried to fight against their tiredness by opening a window or turning up the radio. These solutions do not work for long, with sleep-related accidents more likely than others to result in a fatality or serious injury.10
If you’re still struggling to get a good sleep after a couple of weeks, this can affect your overall health. You could be more at risk of developing serious medical conditions, such as obesity, heart disease, high blood pressure, and diabetes.11
Here are some ways in which a good night’s sleep can boost your health:
Sleep Boosts Immunity
If you’re one of those unfortunate souls who seem to catch every cold or flu that goes around, your bedtime could be to blame. Prolonged lack of sleep can disrupt your immune system12, so you’re less able to fend off bugs.
Sleep Can Keep You Slim
Sleeping poorly could mean that you put on weight. Studies have shown that people who sleep less than seven hours a day tend to gain more weight, with a higher risk of becoming obese than those who manage to get their eight hours of sleep.13
This is believed to be because sleep-deprived people have reduced levels of leptin (the chemical that makes you feel full). They also have increased levels of ghrelin (the hunger-stimulating hormone).14
Sleep Boosts Your Mental Health
A single sleepless night can make you irritable and moody the following day. Therefore, it’s hardly surprising that regularly missing out on sleep can lead to long-term mood problems, like depression and anxiety. When people with anxiety or depression were questioned about their sleeping habits, it turned out that most of them slept for less than six hours a night.15 Read more about this in our articles ‘Sleeping with Depression’ and ‘Sleeping with Anxiety’.
Sleep Prevents Diabetes
Studies show that people who usually sleep less than five hours a night have an increased risk of developing diabetes. Missing out on deep sleep can lead to Type 2 diabetes by changing how your body processes glucose.16 You can read more about this in our article, ‘Diabetes and Sleep’.
Sleep Helps Your Heart
Long-standing sleep deprivation can be associated with an increased heart rate, an increase in blood pressure, and higher levels of chemicals linked with inflammation.17 All this may put an extra strain on your heart – which won’t be helped by the risk of obesity.
Sleep Increases Fertility
Sleep deprivation in both men and women has been claimed as one of the reasons of difficulty conceiving a baby. Regular sleep disruptions reduce the secretion of reproductive hormones.18
How Can You Help Yourself Get A Better Sleep?
The good news is that there are ways you can help yourself get a good snooze at night. However, it’s not an overnight cure – if you’ve had months of restricted sleep, you’ll need to expect recovery to take several weeks.19
Make sure you have a healthy sleeping environment – your bedroom should be cool, dark, and quiet. Try to go to bed in a good mood and avoid using screens about an hour before you go to sleep. Read more about these tips, and others, in our article, ‘7 Tips and Tricks to Get A Good Sleep’.
Make sure you have the correct pillow and duvet to provide support and comfort. Natural and synthetic options exist to offer exceptionally light, soft, and breathable solutions which are practical and long lasting. To find out how to choose the perfect pillow and duvet, read our buying guides and enjoy the good night’s sleep you’ve been dreaming about.
Exercising regularly is also a good way to help yourself get a better sleep. You can read more about how exercise helps improve your sleep in our article, ‘Five Ways Exercise Helps You Sleep’.
The best way to help yourself get a good sleep is to talk to your doctor. Your doctor will ask you about your sleeping habits and can determine if there’s an underlying cause, like a health problem or sleeping disorder. They can work on from this to find out if you need medication or sleeping aids, so make sure your doctor knows if you’re sleeping poorly.