How to sleep: Tips for avoiding the health complications that can occur with lack of sleep

Sleep is vital for our physical and mental health – a time for our body to repair itself. Good quality sleep is as important as eating a balanced diet, reduced stress and exercise are to our physical and mental health. Dr Lynda Shaw, neuroscientist, business psychologist and change specialist spoke exclusively with to discuss four sleep facts you may not be aware of.

“The average person needs between seven to nine hours of good quality sleep a night,” said Dr Shaw.

She continued: “Nearly half (48 percent) of UK adults report that they don’t get enough sleep. with 23 percent only having five hours a night.

“Two thirds (67 percent) of UK adults regularly experience disrupted sleep.

“A night or two of poor sleep won’t harm you, but long-term sleep deprivation will lower your quality of life and put you at risk of serious medical conditions, as well as make you feel moody, impair your concentration and problem-solving skills, increase your risk of depression and you may develop relationship and work issues.”

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Mental health

Dr Shaw said One or two nights of disrupted or inadequate sleep will make you feel short tempered, moody and muddled.

She explained: “Prolonged sleep reduction will put you at serious risk of disorders like depression and anxiety.

“Studies show that people with depression often have less than six hours sleep per night, meaning they do not have enough deep sleep and REM sleep, which is when the brain is restored.

“In the brain of a patient with chronic insomnia the neurons are more ‘excitable’ and will make the person feel ‘wired’ which leads to trouble sleeping.

“In these situations, the brain may need training to let you go to sleep for example using hypnotherapy.”

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Essential for work

Sleep is essential for brain function as it is when we consolidate information and memories from the day, and improves memory, performance, problem solving and creativity, said Dr Shaw.

She advised: “Forcing your brain to work well into the night at the cost of proper sleep is not conducive to well-being nor career success.”

Improves learning

Sleep helps learning by helping you concentrate and learn new information, consolidate memories and establishes stronger communications between brain cells.

Dr Shaw said: “This means information is transmitted from one part of the brain to another more efficiently, improving your ability to recall the information you’ve learnt.

“Studies have found that sleep helps us to preserve our greatest memories and downgrade those that are of lesser importance.

“Without sufficient sleep, our brains will almost certainly find it more difficult to distinguish between the two.”

Time for repair

“When you sleep your body sends more oxygen to your muscles and repairs any muscle injuries,” warns Dr Shaw.

“You are at higher risk of back pain and musculoskeletal injury if you don’t sleep enough.

“Also, the flow of cerebrospinal fluid in the brain washes away toxins that have built up during the day, including metabolic by products found in Alzheimer’s Disease (AD) are flushed away which may reduce the risk of AD.”

Sleep tips

If you’re having difficulty falling asleep, a regular bedtime touring will help you wind down and prepared for bed, according to the NHS.

The health body advises: “First of all, keep regular sleeping hours. This programmes the brain and internal body clock to get used to a set routine.

“Most adults need between 6 and 9 hours of sleep every night. By working out what time you need to wake up, you can set a regular bedtime schedule.

“It is also important to try and wake up at the same time every day. While it may seem like a good idea to try to catch up on sleep after a bad night, doing so on a regular basis can also disrupt your sleep routine.”

Making sure you wind down before sleep, for example having a warm bath, doing relaxation exercises, or reading, and making sure your bedroom is sleep-friendly (dark, quiet and tidy and at a temperature better 18C and 24C) is also advised.

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