Sleep is a fundamental part of our existence because it is essential for a healthy and long life, and it has been stated that any person who gets less than seven hours sleep a night is at a higher risk of damaging their physical and/or mental health. Even so, many people get less than the recommended amount, which is concerning due to the impact it can have on all areas of our life.
It is said that most adults need between six and nine hours of sleep every night, but the seven hours mark has been set as a threshold. Research has found to show evidence that suggests a large amount of adults in Britain get less sleep than they require; 6.8 hours a night on average. However, other research has found that 16% sleep for less than six hours a night while another 19% get between six and seven hours of sleep. That’s 35% of British adults not getting the amount of sleep they need, which I find to be quite shocking.
The consequences of not getting enough sleep are wide-ranging; there are things like a person’s performance being affected, such as feeling grumpy, tired and irritable, and not working as well as you can. An occasional lack of sleep should not affect your health, but if it continues, that is when it can begin to have a serious effect. Mental effects, such as brain fog, allows for it to become difficult for a person to make decisions and concentrate, and they may start to feel down, and become prone to falling asleep during the day. The risk of having accidents also increases, especially if a person is driving. However, the longer term effects of a lack of sleep are things that can happen to a person’s physical health. As well as shortening life expectancy and exposing people to risks from the common cold, depression, dementia, stroke or heart attack, it can make them prone to serious medical conditions such as high blood pressure, diabetes, obesity, and heart disease, and increases their risk of developing cancer.
So what can be done to ensure people get the sleep they need? Setting a regular bedtime is one example of good sleep hygiene because it allows for the brain and the body’s internal clock to become programmed and used to a set routine, which in turns makes it easier to fall asleep. Other tips include avoid taking naps after 5pm, not having any technology in the bedroom, avoid eating heavy or spicy food two to three hours before bedtime, and make the bedroom darker by using blackout blinds, or wear an eye mask. Writing ‘to do’ lists for the next day can also help organise people’s thoughts and therefore clear their mind of things that may distract them from sleeping.
Sleep is important for the above reasons and many more, but some other effects include boosting the immune system and mental wellbeing, and it can even help with weight loss. Sleep is something that a lot of people can struggle with, but hopefully by knowing the facts, action can be taken to ensure we all get what we need.
Sarah Keeping MBPsS MSc PgDip GDip BA (Hons)
Follow Sarah on twitter at @keepingapproach