How much sleep do I need?
We have become a sleep deprived society and it’s having a detrimental effect on our health. Sleep is a pillar of health which is just as important as eating, drinking and exercising. Sleep affects our ability to use language, sustain attention and understand what we’re reading and hearing. The National Sleep Foundation recommends that adults should get 7-9 hours sleep each night but most us aren’t taking this message seriously (note that excessive sleep also has a negative impact on our health). Poor sleep is linked to physical ailments such as a weakened immune system and mental health problems such as depression and anxiety. Ok, let’s get realistic for a moment- we love sleeping but how can we sleep that long regularly when we work long hours, have families to look after, ensure that we eat well, exercise, catch up on Netflix and also manage a social life? It seems like we don’t have enough hours in the day. Well, it’s not impossible but we do need to prioritise our health by practicing self-care.
Personally, I have struggled with insomnia since I was a teen and poor sleep has always been a big fat warning sign of declining mental health. The less I sleep, the more I worry about coping during the day and the more I worry about coping, the less I sleep. It’s just one of the many vicious cycles that we experience with mental health issues.
Lack of sleep leads to:
- Depression and Anxiety -less able to rationalise worried thoughts and irrational fears.
- Loneliness – too tired to socialise or make conversation with friends and family.
- Psychotic episode – can trigger those of us who experience psychosis.
- Physical health – serious conditions such as obesity, diabetes and heart disease.
- Low fertility – difficulty conceiving by reducing the secretion of reproductive hormones and low sex-drive.
(Just in case I’m boring you to death, here’s a picture of my spirit animal. Let’s all take it slow, sleep more and release our inner sloth)
Tip #1 Avoid caffeine, alcohol and sugary foods close to bedtime
A balanced diet can aid sleep so avoid going to bed too full or too hungry. I also find that a hot drink such as milk with honey or a camomile tea raises your body temperature, releasing a calming sensation for you to relax and sleep well.
Tip #2 Exercise regularly
When depressed I find it very difficult to motivate myself to exercise. Going for a long run when you have a low mood can be a task setting yourself to fail but exercise is an answer to most health issues and research has shown that exercising 3 times a week leads to a deeper sleep. If you’re lacking motivation, I find it easier having a partner to work out with and start of with something that suits your energy levels. I’d suggest starting with something like Yoga. If like me you have social anxiety you can practice yoga in the privacy of your own home with a friend or a member of family. It’s done wonders in reducing my anxiety levels. Exercise does also give a boost in energy so make sure not to exercise too close to bedtime.
Tip #3 Establish a routine
Establish a regular sleeping pattern of going to sleep and waking up at roughly the same time each day (including weekends). You’ll find that soon enough you won’t need an alarm and your body clock will have reset into it’s very own routine.
Tip #4 Sleep in a comfortable place
Personally I find that a dark, cool and quiet environment favours a good nights sleep. Make sure not to lay in bed during the day and avoid using your bed to do any mentally stimulating activities i.e. studying, working, watching TV. Also, the importance of a comfortable mattress with good support shouldn’t be overlooked either.
Tip #5 Writing a diary
I have found that keeping a diary has therapeutic benefits. Writing things down allows me to identify what’s causing me any stress or anxiety and sometimes it even helps me resolve some of my concerns. Of course, alternatively you can talk through these problems with someone who won’t judge you.
Tip #6 Disconnect
Sleep means to shut down so we can reset for the next day however, there is a universal habit plaguing us all- Technology Attachment. We’re all guilty of being addicted to our phones, tablets and laptops. The bright screens and constant exposure of social media and the news can make us feel like the apocalypse is nigh and this can have a very negative impact on our mood. So let’s all make a pact to disconnect for an hour before bed. Alternatively, find a relaxation method that works for you. My preference is to listen to some calming music or read a book (avoid e-readers because of the screen brightness).
Medication is always a last resort for me and I’m wary of sleeping pills as they can be addictive but it can help those with chronic insomnia. I have taken certain types to aid my sleep and it was fine for a short period but they can have a sedative effect that carries on into the morning and they disrupt your sleeping pattern which isn’t ideal. I would try to follow the advice above before contemplating over-the-counter or prescription pills. If you have a severe sleeping problem, seek advice from your GP.
Don’t compromise your daily performance, mood and relationships and get a good night’s sleep.