When people talk about their health and wellbeing they tend to focus on what they eat and how much exercise they do, sleep rarely gets a mention. Which is ironic really, as sleep is probably the most important component of your overall health. And, just like a lot of us aren’t eating as many veggies as we should, more than 1 in 3 people aren’t getting enough sleep either.
Most people think of sleep as an unproductive time. It is what they do after they have finished off all of the “more important things” for the day, the time when they close their eyes and everything shuts off. But this isn’t actually the case. Sleep was once thought of as a passive activity, however we now know sleep is a dynamic process where, while the “awake centres” of our brain are switched off, many other parts of the brain and body are working overtime. We know certain hormones are released, such as growth hormone are released when we sleep, and it is also when digestion, protein production and cell repair is maximal.
So putting it is basic terms, you need sleep to grow, heal and repair.
Not only that, research shows not getting enough sleep can have serious health consequences. People who don’t get enough sleep on a regular basis have:
Increased weight gain and higher risk of obesity
Higher risk of heart disease
Higher rates of depression
Weakened immune system function
Ok, so we have established sleep is important, but how much of it do you actually need?
The recommendation for the average adult is at least 7 hours of sleep per night. For those of you with children, teenagers need around 10 hours per night and 12-13 hours for primary school aged children. It is important to remember quality is just as important as quantity. You might be in bed for 8 hours per night, but if you’re waking frequently, even if you get back to sleep straight away, chances are you aren’t getting enough good quality sleep.
How can you tell if you’re getting enough good quality sleep? If you wake up not feeling refreshed, are struggling with concentration or find you easily doze off, then chances are you aren’t getting enough.
So how can you improve your sleep? My top tips are:
Make it a priority! Just like you set aside time to exercise, make sure you prioritise sleep in your daily schedule.
Keep a consistent sleep routine, going to bed and waking up at a similar time each day.
Limit screen time in the hour before going to bed.
Keep your bed for sleeping, not working.
And remember, if you are concerned you might not be getting enough sleep, or you always seem to be tired, please, speak to your doctor.