17 March is World Sleep Day and Heart Research UK wants you to ask yourself: are you one of the third of Britons who sleep for less than six hours a night? If you’re falling short of getting the recommended 6 – 9 hours each night, your sleeping habits should be a cause for concern.
When we sleep, hormones are released, our breathing rate, heart rate, blood pressure and body temperature drop and our memory is consolidated. Studies over the years suggest that a lack of routine, too little or too much sleep can harm our mental and physical health including an increased risk of heart disease, depression, obesity and diabetes.
Shift work, in particular night shifts, can lead to more heart attacks and stroke as it disrupts the body’s natural ‘clock’. Research has also shown that sleeping more than 9 hours per night and working shifts may double the risk of Parkinson’s disease and triple the risk of diabetes, a risk factor for heart disease.
Lack of sleep can not only lead to reduced concentration and irritability, impacting your performance at work and your social life, but prolonged periods of disrupted sleep patterns can also disturb your eating and exercise routines making you more likely to gain weight.
Heart Research UK have some sleep suggestions which could help you get more shut eye:
The ideal temperature
The right environment is key to helping you get a restful and undisturbed sleep with 18.5°C (65°F) being the optimal temperature. It’s important that your hands and feet are warm to help you regulate your body temperature so wear socks to bed in winter and remember to change your duvet as the seasons change.
Screen-free sleep zone
Melatonin is a hormone known to help restful sleep, with levels in your blood rising greatly at night. Natural and artificial light however, reduces the production of melatonin which could lead to impaired sleep so using electronic devices before bed not only stimulates the brain, but can prevent you from falling into that peaceful and relaxed sleepy state.
Try reading a book instead, a much more relaxing way to drift off into a restful slumber.
Try not to eat just before you go to bed and avoid foods high in sugar and carbohydrates which are known to induce peaks and crashes in energy. Instead, choose high protein foods and plenty of fruits and vegetables even if you sleep during the day which will fill you up and stop you waking up hungry. Don’t go to sleep on a full stomach or eat too late and steer clear of eating large, fat, sugar and salt-laden or spicy foods.
Keep a healthy weight and control your waistline.
Make regular exercise a part of your routine during the day or early evening. Exercise releases feel good hormones, endorphins. Not only will you feel fantastic, you’ll use up excess energy to help you fall sound asleep.
Wind down time
Get into good habits with a calming evening routine. Clear your head before bed with a relaxing bath, aromatherapy, soothing music, stretches and positive thoughts. Alcohol before bed may seem like a good way to get you off to sleep but it’s certainly not the answer; alcohol disturbs sleep quality and causes that next day ‘fuzzy head’, stopping you from being on top of your game.
Take time out for quality relaxation and doing things you enjoy with people you care about
Tips for night owls
If you work through the night it can be a struggle to sleep during the day when the rest of the world’s awake; shut out the sunlight with blackout curtains or an eye mask considerate and let family and neighbours know you sleep during the day and ask them to keep the noise down or use ear plugs.
“Adequate daily sleep should not be considered a luxury, but an important component of a healthy lifestyle.” Sleep specialist, Najib Ayas.
So, use World Sleep Day to re-assess your sleeping habits then snuggle down and dream-on for a brighter, happier and healthier start to your day. You owe it to yourself and your loved ones get the best quality sleep you can.