Nearly half of all adults in the UK don’t get enough sleep. Just under a quarter of all adults in the UK understand the biggest factor affecting their health is the amount of sleep they get. A lack of sleep is associated with just about every kind of health condition you never want to get ranging from an increased risk with cancer to obesity and diabetes. What’s worse is these numbers are set to rise.
Why is a lack of sleep so detrimental to our health?
The simple answer is we have no evolutionary defence against it. Let me explain what I mean by that.
Human beings are the only mammal that deliberately deprives itself of sleep. In the natural world if an animal needs to sleep and it’s safe to do so. It goes to sleep.
Throughout history that is how it’s always been and as such nature has never needed to develop any form of countermeasure. There is no evolutionary safeguard against sleep deprivation which is why it leads to such a shockingly rapid deterioration of our cognitive abilities.
Over time the rest of our bodily functions follow suit.
Where’s the evidence?
Twice a year we perform a global sleep experiment known as ‘daylight saving times’ and the results are hard to fathom at first.
In March every year when half the world’s population loses an hour of sleep. . . heart attacks the following day see an increase of 24% (average over the last 10 years). Strokes, car crashes and accidents at work all see a spike too.From losing just one hour!
Daylight saving aside, our poor relationship with sleep extends far beyond the clocks changing but this highlights how even a small adjustment can have a huge impact. If you regularly get less than 7 hours of sleep, then this could seriously be affecting your health.
How did it get this bad?
We are more connected than ever. This has led to unprecedented progress in so many measurable metrics of human health however constantly being plugged into the matrix does have a cost: Time.
Before mobile phones, the internet and email you could stop working at the end of the day. Today, we are surrounded by screens and connected to everyone, everywhere all the time. 5pm no longer means your working day is done.
For people who are lucky enough not to work late into the evenings, the rise of social media and addictiveness of the latest Netflix binge there is practically no escape.
We live in a culture that takes pride in working long hours and saying things like ‘plenty of time to sleep when you’re dead’. I don’t mean to sound dramatic, but these are real reasons why it can be so hard to shut off.For the 16 million adults in the UK who have trouble sleeping, something needs to be done.
What can we do?
When it comes to sleep there isn’t any one size fits all solution as everyone is different. Not just different because you have a different body and physiology but because you have a lifestyle unique to you and only you.
That said, here are some tried and tested tips which should help you nod off faster all backed by scientific research:
Sleep in a cool, dark room. Human beings for thousands of years have evolved to sleep at night and the brain’s production of melatonin in the biological function which tells our bodies it’s time to sleep. Light from screens like your mobile and TV disrupts this and fools your brain into thinking it’s still daytime, hindering melatonin production and keeping you awake.
Expose yourself to sunlight during the day. Again, this is important for melatonin production and always aims to be outside during the day for at least 30 minutes so that in the evening your body knows it really is time to sleep.
Have a schedule. Sticking to a schedule can make a huge difference and is widely reported as being one of the best things we can do for our overall health. Try setting an alarm for bedtime at first to build the habit. Having a lie in on the weekend doesn’t make up for losing sleep during the week. Sleep hours are not like money, you can’t bank them and use them later. Every day is just as important as the last when it comes to sleep.
Have somewhere comfy to sleep; This sounds obvious but make sure you have a decent mattress, pillows and the right sort of duvet for the climate you live in. Sometimes buying a whole new mattress is wasteful, so a great way to upgrade is getting a mattress topper. Invest in a good quality pillow too. The right support for your head while sleeping can help with respiration, sleep apnoea and prevent you waking up in the night.
The good news
We know more about sleep from a scientific perspective than we ever have before.Now we understand how bad a lack of sleep is we know that it is something that we really need to work on. It means that we have the power to take conscious steps towards better rest and better health. We’ve come a long way from counting sheep and now the ball is in our court. Reading this article, be honest with yourself. Do you get enough quality sleep? If the answer is ‘no’ then the suggestions above are for you. Fall in love with sleeping again. It’s a relationship that won’t let you down.