Research shows we spend around one third of our lives asleep 😴 Sleep plays an integral part in maintaining good mental and physical health, so a lack of rest can put you at risk of developing short and long-term health conditions.
According to the NHS, 1 in 3 people suffer from poor sleep, and factors such as stress, work and too much screen time are often to blame.
Read on to find out how a lack of rest can impact your health, and our top tips to help you get a great night’s sleep.
How does sleep impact our health?
Getting a good night’s sleep is vital to help restore your body’s health, repairing your heart and blood vessels as you rest. Sleep is also essential for aiding recovery from illness or injury, as most healing takes place when we’re asleep.
It is recommended that adults get between 6-9 hours sleep per night, depending on what your body needs. If you wake up tired or feel groggy throughout the day, it’s likely you aren’t getting enough sleep.
When your body doesn’t get the rest it needs, you can develop a number of short-term and long-term health problems that can impact your physical and mental health.
When you have a bad night’s sleep, it’s common to wake up feeling tired and groggy. You may be easily irritated by things that don’t normally bother you, or find yourself becoming short-tempered.
Short-term sleep deprivation can also reduce your ability to concentrate and make you more forgetful. When you miss out on sleep your brain will fog, causing problems with memory and focus, and this can make it difficult for you to make decisions. This puts you at risk of injury, as you likely won’t be able to react as quickly to situations.
In the short-term, lack of sleep may not permanently harm your health, but over time you become more at risk of serious health consequences.
If sleepless nights persist for a long period of time, you risk developing serious health conditions such as obesity, diabetes, and coronary heart disease. This is because a lack of sleep can increase insulin resistance, which means your body is unable to respond to the amount of insulin it is producing. Insulin resistance is a key risk factor for type 2 diabetes and heart disease.
Your immune system is also strengthened as you rest, so a lack of sleep can weaken your system over time and make you more susceptible to infections.
Another long-term impact of sleep deprivation is weight gain. According to the NHS, people who get less than 7 hours of sleep per day gain weight easier and have a higher risk of becoming obese. People who lack sleep often have increased levels of the hunger-stimulating hormone, ghrelin, and their levels of leptin are reduced (this is the chemical that makes you feel full).
You can even shorten your life expectancy by consistently missing out on a good night’s rest.
The effects of poor sleep on mental health
Long-term sleep deprivation can also have serious effects on your mental health.
The symptoms that come from a lack of sleep make it more difficult to function in everyday life, and this can cause feelings of stress or anxiety that may intensify over time. The longer you go without a good night’s sleep, the more prone you are to developing a mental health condition.
You may struggle with having enough energy to do things in the day, which can, in turn, make you feel isolated, depressed or anxious. According to the Sleep Charity, 4 in 5 long term poor sleepers suffer from low mood and are five times more likely to feel alone.
Some people even experience hallucinations as a result of poor sleep, seeing or hearing things that aren’t really there. This can trigger feelings of paranoia, particularly in those with existing mental health conditions.
While sleep deprivation can cause serious health problems, it is possible to reverse the increased risk of long-term health effects by fixing your sleep schedule. Read on to find out how.
What’s the best way to wind down before bed?
If you struggle to fall or stay asleep, making some changes to your daily routine can help. Here are a few easy ways to get a better night’s sleep.
Nicotine, alcohol and caffeine are all stimulants that can affect your ability to get to sleep. Stimulants are designed to make you feel alert, so having these before bed will disrupt your natural body clock and result in sleepless nights.
Try to avoid any stimulants at least a few hours before bed to give your body time to wind down.
Reduce screen time
While watching TV or scrolling through your phone may seem like a good way to relax before bed, research shows it can actually have the opposite effect. Looking at screens often has a stimulating effect, making you feel more awake by keeping your mind humming.
Additionally, the blue light that emanates from electronic devices can stop your body producing the hormones that make you tired, causing you to become alert right before bed.
Reduce your screen time by turning off your devices an hour before going to sleep.
Regular sleep schedule
Maintaining a regular sleep schedule can give you a better quality of sleep each night.
When you go to bed and wake up at the same time every day, your body becomes used to the schedule and you’ll soon find your body clock following the routine.
Having a lie in or staying up late can disrupt this body clock and cause problems falling asleep. By figuring out what time you need to wake up each day, you can plan a regular sleep schedule so your body naturally knows when it’s time to go to bed.
Most adults need around 6-9 hours of sleep each night, so find out what your body needs and try to stick to this schedule.
Exercising throughout the day can improve your sleep quality by reducing the amount of time it takes to fall asleep.
Not only does exercise tire your body out ready for sleep, but it also releases endorphins which can reduce stress and anxiety. Lower levels of stress and anxiety can make it easier to fall and stay asleep.
Relaxation exercises, such as yoga, can also help to relax your muscles ready for bed.
While exercise can improve the quality of your sleep, exercising straight before bed can have the opposite effect. Therefore it’s recommended to refrain from exercising at least two hours before bedtime.
Create a great sleep environment
Taking steps to wind down before bed can be futile if you’re trying to fall asleep in an environment that doesn’t work for you. Make sure you’re sleeping in a room that is cool, dark and quiet, with no distractions.
The amount of light in your room affects your circadian rhythm (part of your biological clock that helps regulate your sleep). Darkness prompts your body to produce melatonin, a hormone that helps control your sleep cycle, so being exposed to light can block melatonin production and stop you falling asleep.
Your sleep quality can also be affected by temperature as excess heat can disrupt your sleep, so aim to keep your room cool.
If external sound is keeping you awake, see if you can combat this with a white noise machine, or play comforting music if this helps. Ear plugs are another effective way to block out sound and promote sleep.
Finally, one of the key factors in creating a great sleep environment is the quality of your mattress.
Buying the right mattress
Finding a supportive mattress that works for your body is vital to getting a good night’s sleep and preventing back pain. Here are a few tips to finding your perfect mattress.
Is a hard or soft mattress best?
The firmness of your mattress depends entirely on your own body and what feels right. An extra firm mattress might be ideal for a person who weighs 16 stone, but a person who weighs 8 stone may be better suited to a soft or extra soft mattress.
If you’re not sure which firmness is right for you, take some time to consider your weight, and the amount of support you want from your mattress.
Which is the right mattress for me?
Personal preference should ultimately determine what is best when choosing a mattress, but there are a few factors to consider when it comes to spine health.
If your mattress is too firm or soft, it won’t support your spine the way it needs to. When lying on your side, your spine should be parallel to the mattress and should not sag or bow. If your spine is sagging, this indicates your mattress is too soft, and if it bows your mattress may be too firm.
The British Chiropractic Association recommends that you should also take your pillow height into account; your neck should remain in line with your spine and not sit too high or low.
The best way to find a mattress that’s right for you is to experiment before you buy. Try lying on a mattress for at least 15 minutes to get an accurate idea of whether it will work for you.
What about my partner?
If you share a bed with a partner, it can cause difficulty when it comes to choosing the right mattress, particularly if there is a difference in weight between you. Make sure to shop with your partner so you can both test out mattresses before you buy.
Some mattress ranges offer two single mattresses that zip together, so this can be an ideal solution for couples with different support needs.
What is the best sleeping position to prevent back pain?
Choosing the right sleeping position can help prevent back problems even with your new mattress. Try not to stay in one position for too long, as this can put increased pressure on your joints and cause back pain.
You should also try to find a sleeping position that doesn’t put too much pressure on your back; for example, if you regularly sleep on your front with your neck twisting to one side, try sleeping on your side instead to relieve pressure. When sleeping on your side, putting a pillow between your legs can help align your hips, which may relieve lower back pain.
If you have aches and pains that keep you up at night, get in touch. Our chiropractors have over 100 years of combined experience and can help treat a range of complaints, including back and neck pain.