Protecting time to sleep is really important for maintaining the health of our brain. The brain cleans itself while we sleep, flushing out waste products that build up throughout the day. Not getting enough sleep can disturb this brain cleaning system and lead to a harmful build-up of toxic proteins, including those associated with neurodegenerative conditions such as Alzheimer’s disease.
Research studies have found links between getting too little sleep in mid-life and an increased risk of developing dementia in later life.
A lack of sleep can also impact on our mood and can make it more difficult to keep on top of other areas of our daily lives that are important for looking after the health of our brains.
To learn a little more about how to manage a healthy sleep routine, we caught up with Sleep Expert Lisa Artis, Deputy CEO of The Sleep Charity, who shared some advice and top tips.
Why is it important to get good sleep?
Getting a good night’s sleep is key for our physical and emotional health. Research has shown that a lack of sleep can increase the risk of conditions such as heart disease, obesity and stroke as well as increase our anxiety and stress levels.
We’ve all faced disruptions to our sleep pattern at some time or another. And we’ve likely experienced how the effects of this short-term sleep deprivation can make it harder to concentrate, can cause us to feel more emotional or irritable, and can even leave us more susceptible to picking up coughs and colds.
Problems sleeping can often be a temporary issue, perhaps related to something busy or stressful going on in our lives. In these cases usually once the stressful moment has passed, our sleep gets better.
However sometimes sleep problems can continue and can lead to longer term issues. We know that trouble sleeping that goes on for three months or more can also increase our risk of experiencing longer term chronic health conditions. If you’re experiencing problems it’s always best to act early and try to resolve any changes to our sleep to prevent longer term complications.
Keeping a sleep diary can be a really useful tool to help spot trends and patterns in our routine. Are we always waking up around a certain time of night? Is it to go to the toilet? Or because the window is open and there’s noise from the birds outside, or the bins being collected? Is it when the sun starts creeping in through the curtains?
Sometimes even making small changes to manage little disturbances can have a big benefit in helping us get a sound night’s sleep.
What are some top tips for getting good sleep?
Safeguard your sleep. It’s easy to get knocked off track without realising. When life gets busy our sleeping time is often the first thing to suffer, as we try to fit more and more into our waking day and our bedtime inevitably starts to slide backwards. So it’s important to be proactive in keeping on top of our sleep routine. Some key things that can help us manage include:
Don’t look at the clock – if we’re struggling to fall asleep or if we wake up in the night it can be tempting to check what time it is. But this can make us feel more anxious and make it harder to drift off. Try turning alarm clocks around so they face away from you in bed to help resist the temptation to check.
Create a relaxing bedroom environment – set up your surroundings to support sleep. Do a quick bedroom check before getting into bed. Is it too hot or too cold? Is it nice and quiet? Is outside light getting in from anywhere? Is the room clutter free? Your bedroom should be a haven, somewhere you feel completely comfortable and at ease to help you sleep soundly.
Put your phone out of reach – it’s best to avoid screen time immediately before going to bed and certainly while we’re in bed. If we don’t fall asleep immediately it can be all too tempting to grab our phone from the bedside table and start scrolling. Place your devices out of arms reach, or better yet across the room, to help remove any urges to pick them up. Whatever is on our phones can wait until the morning!
Keep a routine but be realistic – keeping a regular sleep pattern and getting up at roughly the same time every day is important to help us get into a good rhythm. It’s helpful to try and go to bed at around the same time every night too. But it’s best to get into bed when we’re feeling sleepy. So if it ever gets to the usual bedtime and you’re feeling wide awake maybe hold off on jumping straight into bed, try a relaxing activity for a little while to help yourself unwind before turning out the lights.
Quality not quantity – aiming for 7-9 hours sleep a night is a useful target to have. But we’re all unique and should follow a routine that works best for us. It’s best to prioritise getting regular, good quality, uninterrupted sleep rather than focussing only on the number of hours we spend in bed.
Where can people go for more information and support?
There is loads of reliable, practical advice available on The Sleep Charity website.
If you’d like to talk to someone about your sleep, The Sleep Charity are here to listen and provide support through their dedicated national sleep helpline. Call 03303 530 541 to chat to a trained sleep advisor.