Sleep is an essential and involuntary process, without which we cannot function effectively, and it helps to repair our brains as well as our bodies.
During sleep, we can process information and emotions, consolidate memories and undergo essential brain maintenance that help us to function during the day time.
This is why everyone needs to get the right amount of good quality sleep, however, we all know how difficult it can be sometimes.
There are lots of different reasons for poor sleep, some that we can’t do anything about (biological reasons) and some that we can monitor, such as social media usage.
Why Is Sleep Important?
With 45% of adolescents reporting that they get less than 8 hours of sleep at night, it is increasingly important to have a look at why sleep is so important.
Having good quality sleep is essential, not only for you to function well, but to reach your full potential in sports and in education.
What can affect our sleep?
- stress or worries- such as worries about school or college, family or money
- mental and physical health issues
- working at night or working shifts
- health conditions relating to our sleep, such as insomnia
- taking medication, including starting or coming off of medication
- current or past trauma
- recreational drugs and alcohol
- being a parent or a carer
- problems with where we sleep- is it comfortable? Are you easily disturbed because it’s noisy?
What does ‘good quality sleep’ mean?
Sleep quality is different from sleep quantity. Sleep quantity measures how much sleep you get each night, while sleep quality measures how well you sleep.
Measuring sleep quantity is simple, as it’s quick to determine if you’re getting the recommended amount of sleep per night. Measuring sleep quality is a little more of an art than a science. Generally, good sleep quality is defined by the following characteristics:
- You fall asleep soon after getting into bed, within 30 minutes or less.
- You typically sleep straight through the night, waking up no more than once per night.
- You’re able to sleep the recommended amount of hours for your age group.
- You fall back asleep within 20 minutes if you do wake up.
- You feel rested, restored, and energized upon waking up in the morning.
During deep sleep, your body releases the growth hormone, repairs tissue and restores energy levels, keeping your body fit and healthy.
Getting the right amount of sleep also makes it easier to maintain a healthy weight, as it helps to control cravings for sugary foods, as well as boosting our immune systems which can help us to avoid skin blemishes and spots.
Sleep and Mental Health
There’s a really close relationship between sleep and our mental health, and when we lack in good quality sleep, often, our mental health suffers, but likewise, our mental health problems can also affect how well we sleep.
If you live with a mental health problem, you may find it difficult to get to sleep in the first place, and end up in a vicious cycle of worry and not sleeping, which in turn, can make your mental health problem feel worse.
My mental health makes it hard to sleep, where can I go for support?
In the first instance, it is always worth talking to your GP or a trusted person about how your mental health is affecting your sleep, as this could be down to medication prescribed for your mental health.
What can I do to help me sleep?
There are lots of things that you can do to help to improve your sleep. This is called practising good sleep hygiene.
- Routine- having a good routine around bedtime isn’t just for small children. Everyone can benefit from this! Try and do the same things at around the same time each evening, so that your body can prepare for relaxation and sleep. For something to become a routine, it needs to be repeated a number of times for a while, including on weekends! Your routine should start about an hour before going to bed and should start outside of the bedroom. Make sure that during this hour, you aren’t on any technology screen, including phones, tv and computers and find something relaxing to do. This might be reading, drawing or having a long shower or bath!
- Turning off technology- screens are a no go an hour before bed, as the blue light suppresses melatonin production, making us feel less sleepy. If you use your phone for an alarm, try and set this early, and use the ‘do not disturb’ or ‘sleep’ setting on your phone so that you aren’t tempted to pick it up during the night.
- Bedroom environment- an ideal bedroom should be free of clutter and distractions, dark, quiet and cool in temperature. All of these will help aid in a peaceful sleep.
- Exercise- getting exercise during the day is proven for not only physically tiring out your body, but also reduces stress and is followed by a drop in body temperature, which helps your body get ready for bed.
Relaxation tips to aid good sleep
There are many relaxation techniques, and you might have to try a few to see which suit you!
- Senses: Notice 5 things you can see, 4 things you can feel, 3 things you can hear, 2 things you can smell and 1 thing you can taste.
- Breathing: Simply focus on your breath going in through your nose, and out through your mouth. When you breathe in, slowly count to 7, and when you breathe out, slowly count to 11. Doing this for a few minutes can help you feel calm and relaxed.
- Body Scanning: Begin by focusing all of your attention on your feet, tighten up all of those muscles then relax them. Slowly do this all the way up your body until you reach your head and neck, relaxing all of your muscles.