Sleep – are you getting enough?
It isn’t just about energy levels: lack of sleep is also linked to issues like stress and weight gain. But there’s no need to accept poor sleep as a norm that can’t be broken, says sleep expert Charlotte Edelsten.
How much sleep do we need?
Everyone is different: some people can genuinely function well on five or six hours a night. However, eight hours’ sleep a night is a good guideline. If you consistently get fewer than six hours’ sleep a night over an extended period, this is when we typically see the effects of chronic sleep deprivation kicking in.
Does it matter when you sleep?
Some people function best if they stay up and wake up late; some are better off getting up and going to bed early; others can have an afternoon nap and still sleep well at night. The important thing is that you train your body into a regular sleep routine.
How do you know if you’re short on sleep?
Obviously you feel tired (!) but two other key indicators are mood and concentration: you feel irritable and you struggle to focus. You probably also rely on stimulants such as caffeine and sugar to keep you going, you take a long time to get up in the morning… the list is long.
What are the causes of bad sleep?
There are many possible causes: exercising or eating too close to bedtime, being exposed to artificial light which upsets our body clock, the blue light that’s emitted by phone screens and laptops…
Some people can break all the rules and still sleep perfectly well, but if you struggle to sleep, it’s worth looking at these areas.
Tell us more about blue light
Every day, mid- to late afternoon, our body starts to produce the sleep hormone melatonin. This allows our body to unwind and get ready for sleep. Quite simply, blue light inhibits the production of melatonin.
What can we do to promote good sleep?
- Use amber light filters on your phone and laptop.
- Exercise regularly, but no high intensity workouts close to bedtime.
- Don’t let yourself get too hot at night.
- Consider investing in blackout curtains/blinds.
- Don’t eat too late.
- Avoid smoking in the evening: nicotine is a stimulant.
- Have your last coffee around lunchtime: caffeine stays in your system for 12 hours.
- Go to bed as soon as you feel tired.
- Cut down on alcohol and avoid sleeping tablets: they knock you out, but actually prevent you from achieving deep, restorative sleep.
- Avoid stress – work emails, for example – near bedtime.
What’s the issue with stress?
When you wake, your body produces the stress hormone cortisol to help get you up and running. Cortisol levels then slowly drop until early evening, when they’re reduced to the point that the body readies itself for sleep. If you do something to raise your stress levels, your body is no longer ready to sleep. Equally, if you aren’t sleeping enough, it becomes harder for your body to lower its own cortisol levels.
Any other hormonal responses to lack of sleep?
Lack of sleep affects the hormones that control our appetite: you eat more when you’re tired, and tend to choose food that’s full of sugars and stimulants to keep you going. As a result, you have a 50 per cent higher chance of being obese if you’re sleep-deprived.