After a good night’s sleep, we always look and feel our best. By contrast, just one poor night’s sleep can leave us feeling moody and struggling to concentrate. But whilst these side effects are inconvenient at worst, repeated poor sleep has far more serious consequences.
In this article, we look at why sleep is so important, and how much sleep each of us should get in a perfect world. We also look at a few simple changes you can make to improve the quality of your sleep.
Why is sleep so important?
Whilst the odd poor night’s sleep won’t do much harm, continual bad sleep can have serious long-term effects on our health. Aside from making us feel like we’re running on empty, experts have linked sleep deprivation to significant problems such as diabetes, stroke and heart disease.
Poor sleep is also linked to weight problems and those getting fewer than seven hours a night are 30% more likely to be obese compared to those sleeping for nine or more hours. Experts have suggested this may be because sleep-deprived people have higher levels of ghrelin which stimulates hunger and lower levels of leptin which makes you feel full.
Abnormal sleep patterns don’t just lead to physical health problems – they can also have a substantial impact on your mental and emotional wellbeing. According to Dr. Lawrence J. Epstein, an Associate Physician at the Division of Sleep and Circadian Disorders, people who have problems with sleep are at increased risk for developing emotional disorders, depression, and anxiety.
How much sleep do you need?
Sleep specialist Dr. Michael Breus believes that while the average person only needs seven and a half hours, some will need more and some less. The majority of people will experience five 90-minute sleep cycles during the night, equating to 450 minutes or the seven and a half-hour average. However, the differences from person-to-person arise because some people’s sleep cycles are shorter or longer. Children and teenagers typically need far more sleep than adults – ranging from 16.5 hours for a new-born baby through to nine hours for a 16-year old (click here to see how much sleep your child needs).
For adults, according to Dr Breus, one way to work out how much sleep you need is to start with your usual waking up time and count back seven and a half hours. If, for example, you normally wake at 6.30am, you’d need to go to bed at 11pm. Do this for about 10 days, and if at the end of the test you find you wake up naturally just before your alarm, you know seven and a half hours is perfect for you.
If, however, you are woken by your alarm clock most of the time, try going to bed half an hour earlier and repeating the same test for 10 days. Continue changing your bedtime until you find yourself waking just before your alarm.
Unfortunately, not everyone can work out their perfect sleep cycle this way. Dr Breus notes that around 50% of us have a ‘chronotype’ which simply means our bodies are suited to sleeping at a particular time. If you know you’re a night owl or an early bird, the best way for you to get a good night’s sleep will be to adjust when you sleep to suit your body’s preference.
Despite these recommendations, the Sleep Council report that 70% of Britons sleep for seven hours or less a night, 27% sleep for just five or six hours, and more than a quarter report regular poor-quality sleep. So, how can you get a better night’s sleep and avoid the dreaded sleep deprivation?
Getting a better night’s sleep
For many people, the key factors that influence a good night’s sleep are going to bed at a regular time that gives them the right number of hours for their needs, ensuring that their bed is clean and comfortable, and keeping the bedroom quiet and dark.
Not everyone can sleep with the light off – but as Dr. Michael Grandner, Director of the Sleep and Health Research Program at the University of Arizona, explains, lights can throw off the body’s clock. Your body expects it to be dark at night and bright during the day, so night lights can interfere with its natural rhythms. Not all night lights are the same, however – your eyes equate blueish-greenish light with the daytime so a red or orange-hued light will cause less confusion.
The increase in use of electrical equipment such as phones, tablets, laptops and TVs is likely to be a significant reason why we sleep less now than we used to. These devices emit a type of light that appears to lower our levels of melatonin - the hormone linked to sleepiness. It’s best to avoid using them close to bedtime.
You should also avoid stimulants such as coffee, tea, nicotine and chocolate before bedtime and instead, create a relaxing routine that will help you wind down. A warm bath, soft music, reading a book or meditation are all favourites and can all help you slip into the right mode for drifting off peacefully.
Scented room diffusers containing natural essential oils are another great way to help get your brain into sleep-mode with certain scents thought to be particularly effective. Lavender is an old favourite and one of the most studied essential oils in aromatherapy. Evidence suggests it has the ability to relax mind, body and soul, reducing anxiety and relieving insomnia.
Bergamot similarly has been shown to reduce the heart rate and blood pressure while alleviating stress; and sweet Ylang Ylang is thought to calm the nervous system, lowering the heart rate and blood pressure.
If you’re interested in beautifully scented room diffusers to aid a good night’s sleep head over to our dedicated page and peruse our wide-ranging products available in all your favourites scents.