It’s one activity that all humans have in common wherever they are around the globe. Sleeping. From the heavy ‘a thunderstorm doesn’t wake me’ sleeper to the ‘I’m tearing my hair out and get two hours sleep a night’  sleeper, the amount and quality of sleep varies massively from person to person. Whether you are sleep deprived and desperate for more slumber or are looking for tips to make your 9 out of 10 sleep even better, we’ve got the lowdown on all things sleepy on World Sleep Day 2019.

World Sleep Day – what is it exactly?

March 15th 2019 marks the twelfth annual World Sleep Day. An internationally recognised awareness day coordinated by Parma University in Italy, this day celebrating dozing raises awareness of the importance of good sleep on society, highlighting the benefits and publicising the risks of too few ‘z’s’. With so much talk about the importance of sleep on your physical and mental wellbeing, 2019 is the perfect time to begin focusing on improving your sleep habits.

So, how many hours sleep do you really need?

We often hear that the ‘magic 8’ is the optimum number of hours sleep we should aim for each night for our health and wellbeing. In reality, it is very difficult to apply one specific number to all people, of all ages from across the globe with so many factors at play.

The NHS suggests that 8 hours sleep per night enables us to function properly without tiredness and with a good level of concentration and to avoid impact on our health, but that it varies on a person to person basis. It states that you should try and find the optimum number of hours for you – likely to be between 7 and 9 hours as an adult.

According to a study carried out by the University of California, which monitored sleep patterns of tribal cultures, scientist Jerome Siegel observed that even with just 6 hours sleep, his subjects appeared to be “pretty healthy”.

In 2016 the US Center for Disease Control and Prevention carried out a sleep study concluding that adults should aim for around 7 hours sleep to give them the best possible chance of avoiding health problems such as heart disease, obesity and depression.

The survey did show however that sleep requirement varied significantly depending on the age of the subject with suggestions that newborns require anywhere between 14 to 17 hours sleep compared to people over 65 requiring between 7 and 8.

So in short, if you are aiming for 8 hours of sleep and only achieve 6, don’t beat yourself up. Just focus on doing what you need to do to ensure you achieve enough sleep to feel rested!

Signs to look out for if you think you might be sleep deprived

If you wake up each day feeling still feeling exhausted, then it’s probably time to make some adjustments to your routine. It is widely publicised that sleep has countless benefits for your health. We certainly notice it when we are sleep deprived and according to the NHS, with one in three of us suffering from poor sleep, it’s helpful to know the signs you should look out for… 

When life gets busy with added stress or traumatic life events, it is likely that every human will experience poor sleep at some point. Signs of occasional sleep deprivation include tiredness and irritability and occasional difficulty in concentrating on day-to-day tasks. If this occurs, there are many things you can do to try and combat poor sleep in the short term to ensure it doesn’t become a bigger issue. 

Over a longer period of time the consequences can be a little more serious from poor concentration to depression and anxiety. Over a longer period of time, the NHS suggests diseases such as obesity, heart disease and high blood pressure are all linked to a lack of sleep. It is said to affect your immune system too, so if that pesky little cough won’t shift, it could be because you aren’t getting enough hours sleep.

It’s important to get a good night’s sleep, here’s why

According to BUPA the benefits of getting a good night’s sleep include improved attention and concentration. No more nodding off in the office meeting – we’ve all been there and there’s no worse feeling than being asked to contribute something meaningful to a group discussion but you have no recollection of the past five minutes!

Sleep enables your brain to repair and rebuild. Whilst you are resting BUPA says your body is collecting and processing the information you have taken in throughout the day and converts short term memories into long term memories. This is said to be the reason that when you wake up you can see things more clearly than the night before.

Sleep helps to reduce stress. The American Institute of Stress suggests that approximately 40 million Americans suffer from a sleep disorder such as insomnia, sleep apnea or restless leg syndrome. This combined with stress from a busy day in the office or perhaps looking after a young family, is said to risk the body producing more adrenaline than is actually needed thus placing it in ‘fight or flight mode’ when it should instead be asleep. Following a poor night’s sleep, stimulants such as caffeine are often relied upon as the source for feeling better the next day. Unfortunately, this only fuels the fire and creates a vicious cycle in which grabbing that elusive shut-eye becomes even more of a challenge. Sleep, however, combats this; BUPA suggests it gives the body the chance to relax such systems giving time to repair rather than continuing to supply adrenaline so breaking the cycle of a constant stress response.

“I can’t sleep at night, what should I do?”

Did you know that as many as 16 million adults in the UK are suffering from sleepless nights, with 31% of those saying they have insomnia? This frightening statistic comes from a survey published by Aviva Health.

According to the Mental Health Foundation, it is important to follow “The four pillars of good sleep” rule. ‘H’, ‘E’, ‘A’, ‘L’ is the acronym they promote which suggest you need to balance ‘health’, ‘environment’, ‘attitude’ and ‘lifestyle’ equally.

‘Health’ relates to maintaining optimum physical wellbeing so being free from illness such as a cold. ‘Environment’ focuses on ensuring the space in which you sleep is as optimised for sleep as possible. ‘Attitude’ looks at the mind’s wellbeing and suggests practising techniques such as relaxation to keep the mind in a relaxed state. ‘Lifestyle’ focuses on choices such as which foods and drinks we might choose to consume. Ultimately, this theory promotes a balanced life in every aspect.

Some foods and drinks are great for helping you sleep, but which ones?

It goes without saying that a double espresso before bed is not likely to yield the best night of sleep you’ve ever had and likewise one too many g and t’s might ‘knock you out’ but won’t produce good quality sleep. There are though many types of food and drink that are said to help you sleep soundly. 

Instead of reaching for a slice of white toast before bed, opt for popcorn, oatmeal and whole wheat crackers, all complex carbs. The Sleep Foundation suggests that refined and sugary foods have the potential to negatively impact our serotonin levels and therefore sleep quality, whereas complex carbs are said to help you to achieve a much better night’s sleep.

Melatonin is another essential element that impacts the quality of sleep; this hormone is responsible for setting the body’s clock and determining wake and sleep cycles. Almonds, walnuts and cherries are all said to be great sources of melatonin.

Cottage cheese is another surprising addition to the menu; its high lean protein content is said to help increase serotonin levels. Topped with melatonin-rich raspberries, this is a winning sleep inducing pudding idea!

Something to drink? For a wonderful night of sleep, caffeine is best avoided but if you still crave a hot drink why not replace it with chamomile, peppermint or ginger tea? If you’re not a herbal-tea fan, warm milk is reported to help you sleep like a baby too!

Finally, the most surprising sleep theory we uncovered from the National Sleep Foundation is that by eating two kiwis before bed each day, a study showed its subjects over the course of a month built up to achieving an extra hour of sleep. Who knew? 

It can be challenging ensuring you fit the right things into your diet but thankfully there are lots of resources online and at your local medical centre to provide advice on this. Once you are armed with knowledge and know what you need to add into your diet each week, meal planning is a great way to ensure you are cramming in the required vitamins and minerals to aid a night of peaceful sleep. Our specially designed meal planners make this process simpler by allowing you space to note down your menu for the week accompanied by your shopping list so you can be sure everything is ticked off.

Switch technology off for a better night’s sleep

It is widely publicised that we are now becoming a nation of multi-screen users. Not only are we likely to browsing social media on our phones, but in the background, we could be viewing a film and at the same time shopping on a tablet. Our screen time is now ‘off the scale’ compared to ten years ago. It’s something we often just do and don’t really think about but what if a digital detox could help improve your sleep?

Sleep.org claims that blue light given off by our digital devices restrains the production of melatonin, vital to the control of your sleep/ wake cycle or ‘circadian rhythm’.  This reduction in melatonin makes it more difficult to fall and to stay asleep.

They also highlight that such devices keep your brain on ‘high alert’ and trick it into thinking that it needs to stay awake. This interrupts the natural sleep pattern forcing the brain into an awake state. Combined with notifications going off at all times of the night, it is safe to say that technology is best left away from the bedside table. One habit many adults have developed is using the mobile phone as an alarm clock, making this the first and last thing we look at in a day. Perhaps ‘old school’ is a better solution here to help truly de-digital before bed.

Make your sleep environment somewhere you can switch off

Sounds obvious doesn’t it? But it really is important to cultivate an environment in which falling asleep and staying asleep is made easy.

Think about when you stay in a hotel, often they have minimalist decoration, very few accessories and extremely thick curtains and this is no coincidence. Hotel chains have followed the same principles for a number of years to ensure guests get the best night’s sleep possible and some of these tricks can be carried over into the home…

Consider the colour of your room, how much light comes in through the curtains, whether you are near a noisy window, how crowded your space is and what bedding you sleep under. All of these little details help to shape your sleep environment,

According to the Sleep Council, the average Brit’ gets around 6.5 hours of sleep per night which equates to 2,372.5 hours of sleep per year. That’s a lot of hours in bed and so investing in the best bed and bedding you can afford, really is important. It is said that an uncomfortable bed can reduce your sleep by up to one hour per night. Over the course of a year that is some seriously unnecessary sleep deprivation which is relatively easy to fix! Retailers such as Wayfair.co.uk and Argos.co.uk have great offers on mattresses and beds throughout the year, so a change doesn’t need to cost the earth.

Selecting the right lighting is important too – avoid strong, white lights and opt for softer more ambient lighting. Sleep.org has a great article which gives the lowdown on different lighting types and which one is best for sleep. Ensure your sleeping space is set to ambient temperature too. The Sleep Council suggests the optimum temperature you should aim for is between 16-18°C (60-65°F). You could even invest in an essential oils diffuser as certain oils including lavender, frankincense and cedar wood are all said benefit your sleep.

Lastly, keep a notebook or diary in your room too to write down your worries from the day. This is said to help clear your mind from potentially sleep-inhibiting thoughts allowing you to address them the following day when your mind is more clear.

Get active – you’ll be amazed at the impact exercise has on your sleep routine

Getting enough exercise is beneficial for every aspect of your life, sleep included. Sleep.org suggests that exercise has a two-fold effect on aiding sleep. Firstly by increasing your body temperature and then subsequently reducing in temperature which induces sleepiness. Exercise also helps to reduce anxiety levels another key contributor to a poor night’s sleep.

Furthermore, it suggests that exercise can help avoid developing sleep disorders such as sleep apnea and restless leg syndrome.

So, why not try it straight away? The more vigorous the exercise the bigger the benefit to your sleep, however, you don’t have to go all out at the local gym, by introducing just 10 minutes of exercise a day, ideally in the morning, over a period of time you are likely to begin noticing improvements to your sleep quality.

I’m a new parent, sleep deprivation is just par for the course right?

The one thing nobody prepares you for as a new parent is the painful sleep deprivation. Parents.com notes that a baby’s sleep cycles typically run in 50-minute blocks compared to the 90-minute blocks typical of an adult, so, when baby is awake, of course, the parent is awake too!

Concentrate on making up for lost sleep whenever you have the opportunity. Everyone has heard it; ‘when baby is asleep, grab some shut-eye’ but as a new parent with a million chores to do and so little time in which to do them, too often the tendency is to try and cram in housework instead of grabbing some shut-eye.

We know it’s a balance, but a short nap can work wonders for sleep deprivation. Try to keep it shorter than 30-minutes;  you will feel the most benefit without starting to fall to sleep too heavily and waking up with that horrible groggy feeling. Try not to sleep after 3 pm too as this can then interfere with your nighttime routine.

If there are two parents then making a deal and swapping nighttime feeding responsibilities on a day-by-day basis is an effective way of avoiding both parents having unproductive fragmented sleep. Set yourselves a schedule each week; decide which days are the busiest and tailore nighttime duties according to that.

Check out these useful resources for all things sleep

We’d love to hear any tips you have for a good night’s sleep and hope you find these resources useful in your quest for more z’s.

https://www.parents.com/baby/new-parent/sleep-deprivation/how-to-get-sleep/

http://worldsleepday.org/

https://sleepcouncil.org.uk/where-to-get-help/

https://www.nhs.uk/oneyou/for-your-mind/sleep/

https://www.mentalhealth.org.uk/publications/how-sleep-better

Please note, the content of this blog post is collected from resources online and cannot in any way be constituted as medical advice. If you are suffering from sleep deprivation then consider speaking to a medical professional.