Along with nutrition and exercise, sleep is one of the main pillars of our health. Getting enough high-quality sleep is vital for not only sustaining our physical wellbeing, but our mental wellbeing, too. Countless studies have shown the dangers of sleep deprivation when it comes to issues such as coronary heart disease, depression, dementia and more. And, at a time when people’s health has been very much up in the air, good sleep is more important than ever.
While the body of research showing the value of sleep continues to grow, the fact is that many of us still aren’t getting the amount of sleep we need. The National Sleep Foundation recommends an average of seven to nine hours sleep per night, yet according to the Great British Sleep Survey 2020, Brits are getting around 6.6 hours of sleep on average. Alongside this, reports in The Guardian over the summer revealed that the pandemic was increasing rates of insomnia across the UK.
So how can you make good sleep a priority in the new year? Don’t worry, we’re here to help.
Why is good sleep so important?
It’s impossible to maintain optimal health and wellbeing without getting enough sleep. In terms of our physical health, getting sufficient shut-eye helps to prevent weight gain and obesity by reducing cravings for rich foods and increasing willpower – so you’re more inclined to eat healthy and exercise. Good sleep has also been shown to improve energy levels and enhance motivation – so you’re more likely to be motivated and workout with high intensity. That’s a recipe for improved athletic performance.
In addition, a restorative night’s sleep has been shown to improve coordination and reaction times, so you could be sharper and more accurate if you spend enough time in bed.
Getting plenty of sleep can also help to reduce inflammation in the body, as one study in the World Journal of Gastroenterology found a link between sleep deprivation and inflammatory bowel diseases. Studies also suggest that those who get sufficient sleep can lower their risk of heart disease – a trend which is thought to be related to the way that sleep helps to regulate blood pressure overnight.
Crucially after 2020, sleep is also important in making your immune system as robust as possible. Sleep helps the body repair, regenerate and recover, standing you in better stead to fight off infections.
As well as improving physical health, sleep is also key in supporting our emotional wellbeing. Depression has been linked to sleep deprivation time and time again in scientific studies, and the Journal of Sleep Research found that good sleep also improves our social and emotional intelligence. Sleep is a vital factor in supporting concentration levels, productivity and day-to-day cognition. In short, you need sleep to function.
How to improve your sleep habits?
There’s no doubt that sleep is important, but how can you make it a priority in the new year? Start by assessing your current sleep habits to see where you’re going wrong. Maybe you simply aren’t getting enough sleep, or perhaps you’re finding it difficult to drift off because you’re not giving your brain enough time to wind down.
Set yourself a bedtime and waking time, and stick to them. Avoid using your smartphone for at least an hour before bed, and make sure your bedroom is designed for optimum sleep by making it cool and dark. Spending more time outside during the day can also improve your sleep at night.
Sometimes, our sleep problems derive from wider stresses that keep us up. As well as dealing with these stressful factors, you should also try the likes of exercise, meditation and other relaxing activities to help reduce your stress levels.
Your dietary habits also have a lot to answer for when it comes to how well you sleep. Avoid the likes of coffee close to bedtime, and be wary of alcohol. Yes it might help you fall asleep faster, but the quality of sleep you enjoy will be significantly lower.