As many of us will know, a lack of sleep can make life difficult. Irritability, an inability to concentrate and focus on essential tasks, and the sheer lack of energy all come into play when one has not had enough sleep. Yet, opinions have often been divided on what constitutes ‘enough sleep.’
Why sleep is important
Not only can a lack of sleep lead to symptoms such as those described above. New research from PLOS in the United States has found that failing to get an average of five hours of sleep per night can increase the chances of chronic health conditions, particularly in the over-50s age group.
The PLOS Medicine study analyzed the sleep patterns of 8,000 civil servants across the UK over a period of twenty years. Each participant was asked, “how many hours of sleep do you have on an average weeknight?” Some participants were also asked to wear a sleep-tracking watch.
Throughout the course of the study, over two decades, the participants were also health-checked for the onset of chronic diseases such as diabetes, heart disease, and various forms of cancer.
In the report on the PLOS research published in October 2022, the study’s findings concluded that –
- Those around the age of 50 who slept five hours or less had a 30% greater chance of developing multiple illnesses or conditions than those who slept for seven hours.
- Those in the 50+ age group who followed shorter sleep patterns were more likely to suffer death due to developing chronic illnesses.
Although this study gave the tipping point as five hours of sleep in terms of the risk of developing serious health conditions, most experts state that seven to eight hours a night is essential to maintain mental and physical health.
How can I get better sleep?
Scientists have promoted the benefits of getting decent sleep for decades. Resting the body allows the brain to recharge and process the day’s events and also aids concentration, general mood, and the body’s metabolism.
Several key tips sleep experts endorse to aid a decent night’s sleep. These include –
- Avoiding naps during the daytime
- Develop a good sleep hygiene routine – ensure your bedroom is dark and comfortable, the temperature is suitable for sleeping (experts suggest 65 Fahrenheit, or 18.3 degrees Celcius), and keep your sleep space free from digital devices.
- Avoid the consumption of alcohol or caffeine close to bedtime
- Keep busy and active during the day but slow down towards the end of the day.
- Try breathing exercises in the evening to unwind your body and mind – many breathing apps are available to assist with this.
- If you cannot get to sleep immediately, rather than become frustrated, get up and partake in a relaxing activity such as listening to music or reading a book.
- Stick to regular times to go to bed and wake up
- Try having a warm bath an hour before you go to bed.
Better sleep equals better wellbeing and better health
This latest research enforces the belief that short or disturbed sleep is not good for our health or overall wellbeing. Poor sleep is often related to poor lifestyle choices, but not entirely.
Similarly, while once sleeping tablets might have been the go-to remedy for those who struggle to sleep, side effects and dependency have made GPs reluctant to prescribe them for a long-term solution to sleep issues.
In the modern, tech-savvy age, resources are available for almost every health issue. Disturbed sleep is no exception to this. With so many podcasts and apps available to assist those struggling to get a good night’s sleep, many options are available.
If you believe you might suffer from insomnia or have had trouble sleeping in the past, try taking this two-minute test via the NHS website at www.nhs.uk/conditions/insomnia.
As supported by this latest research, it is clear that a good night’s sleep is crucial for all sorts of reasons – both for your wellbeing now and to reduce the risk of chronic illness in the future. Protecting your sleep now might just protect your health later on in life.
If you are affected by poor sleep or are anxious about the findings of this research, more support is available via our Get Help pages.