Do you feel you’re not getting enough sleep? Well, you’re not alone. A recent study of 13 countries found that England is the most sleep deprived nation with 37% of Britons saying they felt they are not getting enough sleep! Experts have suggested that our working culture may be having a direct impact on our sleeping habits, as two in five said that they were so tired they had no energy left to exercise.
The amount of sleep we need varies on age as well as the individual, something the National Sleep Foundation discovered after spending two years developing a comprehensive set of guidelines on the amount of sleep required for various age groups. Those who are 26-64 need between seven and nine hours sleep a night; while those who are 65-plus need slightly less, seven to eight hours.
But, according to the Sleep Council, another organisation devoted to raising awareness of the health benefits of a good night’s sleep, the average Briton gets just six hours and 29 minutes sleep a night. Moreover, the number of us not getting enough has risen dramatically over the last five years. Stress and worry are cited as the most common reasons, while increasingly busy lives are stopping us from getting to bed in the first place.
Yet many of us ignore these guidelines, believing that it’s perfectly fine to get by on less than the recommended amount. Sleep experts, however, want us to consider the potential heath effects of a consistent lack of sleep as seriously as we would, say, the five-a-day guidelines regarding fruit and vegetables. A lack of sleep doesn’t mean you just end up a bit cranky. It also makes it harder to concentrate, can bring on feelings of anxiety and depression, and, over time, can increase the risk of obesity, heart disease, diabetes and shorten overall life expectancy. Since poor sleep may be bad for the brain, it has even been linked to an increased risk of Alzheimer’s.
So read on for our expert tips on how to sleep longer, and better, every night…
Invest in earplugs
Marianne Davey, director of the British Snoring and Sleep Apnoea Association, advises: “The best earplugs will only block out 37 decibels, which can reduce the sound of minor traffic and other external sounds but is actually not very much if you consider that snoring sound ranges from 50 to 100 decibels. No ear plugs will block that level of noise completely – but they can help muffle it. A good fit is paramount, which can often be a problem for women with small ear canals as the plugs can stick out of the ear. This is also uncomfortable when you are lying on them. Silicone earplugs can be quite effective but the silicone tends to stick to your hair and pull it out. The earplugs we favour are Snore Calm foam earplugs, which cost £9.99 (for 30 pairs) from britishsnoring.co.uk.”
Studies have shown that acupressure can be an effective way to relieve insomnia. The best pressure point for sleep is the ‘neiguan’. This can be found by placing three fingers at the base of the wrist and feeling around for the natural depression between the tendons. Apply steady pressure to help you feel more relaxed.
Combat jet lag
Moving across time zones disrupts your day-to-night sequence that can lead to sleep disruption unless you adapt your behaviour. This should start the moment you get on a plane when you should synchronise your phone and your watch to the time at your destination. If it’s time to sleep at your destination, then you need to sleep; and if it’s time to be awake, then you need to be awake. Remember that slight sleep deprivation is not bad for you. If you are flying to New York, for instance, it’s fine to have the odd shorter night and longer day.
Should you ever take sleeping pills?
“Short-acting sleeping tablets like zolpidem or zopiclone can be useful for short term use – for stressful periods, or to break a cycle when someone goes to bed convinced they are not going to be able to sleep,” says Dr Rosemary Leonard. “But they are never a good idea for long-term use. GPs resist prescribing them in any quantities larger than about seven tablets at a time.”
“Melatonin is also available on the NHS on specialist prescription,” says Dr Ebrahim. “Melatonin is a hormone that occurs naturally in the body, controlling the body clock. By activating certain chemical receptors in the brain, it encourages sleep.”
Watch what you eat and drink before bed
If you haven’t had enough sleep, drink plenty of water as being dehydrated can increase feelings of tiredness. Plus don’t cave into cravings. We tend to feel hungrier and consume more calories when sleep deprived because lack of sleep causes changes in the regulation of appetite hormones. You’re therefore more likely to lust after fatty, sweet foods such as chocolate and biscuits.
Be cautious of nicotine, caffeine and alcohol too as nicotine and caffeine act as stimulants and can take hours to wear off – disrupting your usual bedtime routine. Drinking alcohol can make you sleepy at first but disrupt your sleep later in the night so try to steer clear.
Stick to a sleep schedule
Creating a consistent bedtime routine can help you sleep better, this can be done by choosing specific times to go to sleep and wake up every day. This routine can help your body’s natural sleep-wake cycle and promotes a better night’s sleep. On the nights where you can’t sleep, get up and do something relaxing, like reading and go back to bed when you feel tired again.