We spend a third of our lives sleeping, so why do so many of us still feel tired and exhausted?
It could be down to the quality – rather than the quantity – of our sleep.
If you’re constantly catching your allotted eight hours but not feeling any better for it, you might find that the sleep you’re getting isn’t actually worth it at all.
Dr Roger Henderson, Benenox Overnight Recharge spokesperson and GP, comments: “Despite good quality sleep being essential for cognitive function, general health and wellbeing, a staggering 80% of Brits struggle to get it and on average are waking up three times during the night.
“Quality is just as important as the quantity and ensuring you have enough of both will not only impact how well you can perform the following day but can have a greater impact on your health longer term. For many, sleep can come at the bottom of our list of priorities, but at a time when more people are having to juggle busy careers with hectic family lives, failing to prioritise something as simple as sleep can quickly lead to burnout.”
Want to make those sleep hours count? Dr Henderson shares some sleepy time tips.
1. Don’t exercise late
“Whilst we all know how advantageous exercise is to overall health and wellbeing, exercising late in the evening, particularly after dinner, may impact your quality of sleep.
“Your body needs large amounts of energy in the form of glycogen to renew and restore your cells overnight. However, if you exercise late in the evening, your body will not have the energy (glycogen) it needs to perform this task. If your body’s glycogen levels are low, the liver sends signals to the brain in the form of stress hormone cortisol, alerting it to wake up, resulting in broken, poor-quality sleep that may leave you feeling fatigued and lacking in energy the following day.”
He suggests switching your afternoon workouts to morning workouts, or if you can’t work up a sweat in the morning, to get it all done before 7pm at the latest.
2. Get the lights right
“Light and dark have a primitive impact on our sleep patterns that can affect the quality of sleep that we get each evening.
“We all have a circadian rhythm - our 24-hour internal cycle - which takes cues from external factors such as light and dark. When it is light, signals are sent to our brain that we should be awake during this time, and conversely when it is dark, signals are sent suggesting that we should be asleep.”
Try and minimise the amount of light you have in your bedroom, even if it’s small changes like turning down the brightness of your phone so it doesn’t wake you during the night, wearing a sleep mask and switching your curtains to black out curtains to block out any excess light.
“If you struggle waking up in the morning, an alarm clock with a wake-up light may help, as the introduction of light will help support your body in waking up naturally,” he adds.
3. Stick to a routine
A routine sounds boring but it can soon have a positive effect on your health, especially when it comes to your sleep quality.
“Sticking to a sleeping routine can help regulate your body’s internal clock which will help you start feeling naturally tired and ready to sleep come bedtime.
"The routine will also help your body naturally wake up in the morning at the usual time, without a shrill alarm clock, otherwise, you may be tempted to snooze multiple times.
“If you start to develop this pattern and consistently sleep through the night peacefully, your body will also remember this, reducing the risk of a restless night’s sleep.”
4. Invest your bedding
It’s not rocket science, but an uncomfortable mattress can have you tossing and turning all night long. A good mattress, says Dr Henderson, is one of the key foundations of a good night’s sleep.
“Your mattress will need to provide you with both comfort and support. Both factors will help you fall asleep peacefully and help reduce the risk of you waking up during the night due to discomfort, poor posture or back pain. If you suffer from allergies, look for a mattress and bedding which reduce allergens such as dust mites and bacteria.”
5. Relax before bed
Give yourself some wind-down time so when you do slip under the sheets, you’re feeling totally chilled.
Dr Henderson explains: “It may be obvious, but many people don’t go to bed feeling relaxed. Not only can this make falling asleep harder but it may also cause you to wake up during the night, feeling anxious, as your mind continues to work overtime.
“It’s important to clear your mind before you go to bed and give yourself time to relax and unwind. Ideally, this should be done away from the distractions and bright lights of television, social media or technology as this may leave your mind feeling overactive as you struggle to sleep. There are multiple techniques you can try to help you relax, such as running a hot bath, reading a book, practising gentle stretching techniques or even a spot of meditation.
“If anxiety is the main cause of your trouble sleeping, jot all of your concerns down and leave them beside your bed until the following day. It’s important that you do not take them to sleep with you.”
6. Understand your sleep patterns
“By getting to know what is normal for you, you will be well placed to understand when you are sleeping badly and the potential reasons why.”
How do you do this? Start recording your sleep: keep a notepad by your bed and write down what you’ve done that day, eaten, drank, timing, brightness of your room and of course how you felt when you woke up.
You’ll soon start to notice a pattern and the differences between your day and the resulting good – or bad - night’s sleep.
7. Ask for help
“If you repeatedly have issues sleeping make sure you contact your doctor. Identifying and treating any underlying issues can help you get the sleep you deserve," Dr Henderson advises.