Healthy Living

Sleep and health (2)

I wrote a few days ago about the impact not getting enough sleep can have on our bodies. (See that post here.) Today, I’m going to talk about sleep needs and simple ways we might be able to improve our sleep.

How much sleep do we need?

The vast majority of the British population do not get enough sleep, the average is thought to be 5 or 6 hours a night. It is often low down on our list of priorities in preference of ‘getting stuff done’. However, as discussed in my last post, repeatedly doing this can be detrimental to our health.

Most people need between 6 and 9 hours a night. As with everything, not everyone will fit into this bracket and there are people who can get by on a lot less and those who need a lot more. A key measure of understanding whether you are getting enough for you is whether you feel refreshed when you wake up in the morning.

What could be impacting my sleep?

There are many things that could be impacting sleep quality or duration. To name a few; stress, sleeping environment, dietary habits, bedtime routine, working pattern, children or snoring spouses.

Some of these things are easier to change, or experiment with, than others. For example, it’s a lot easier to change something about your bedtime routine than it is to change your working pattern or child’s sleep!

How can I improve my sleep?

There are some simple things you can try that may help improve the quality of your sleep.

  • Try to go to bed and wake up at a similar time each day, yes, even weekends!
  • Establish a bedtime routine that is relaxing. A bath, a scented candle, soothing music, reading…whatever does it for you.
  • Having a bath helps some people because it causes a drop in body temperature which can help prompt sleep.
  • Avoid use of screens and devices in the hours before bed. If this feels unrealistic for you, sometimes turning them to greyscale or dimming the brightness can also help.
  • Create a relaxing environment to sleep in, ideally your bedroom should create a sense of calm, be dark and feel slightly cool at 16-18’c.
  • Avoid heavy meals, alcohol and nicotine 2 hours before bed. Ideally, avoid caffeinated drinks 6 hours before bed (caffeine can stay in the system for up to 12 hours!)
  • Give some thought as to what is keeping you awake at night. Sometimes stress and worry can make it difficult to sleep. If you feel this might relate to you, have a chat to your GP as there are some techniques and therapies that can help.


It can be easy to focus on diet and exercise when we want to become more healthy. However, health is complex and our sleeping patterns are an essential component of feeling well.

Where can I find more information?

If you find that you are really tired, and struggle to stay awake during the day, it is worth talking things through with your GP, as there may be something else going on which could be treated.

Healthy Living

Sleep and Health (1)

Sleep is not necessarily something that springs to mind when we think about making changes that can benefit our health. However, there is an abundance of research which shows getting an adequate amount of good quality sleep has significant benefits on our physical and emotional health.

What impact does not getting enough sleep have?

The brain

When we’re tired, we might notice that we’re less able to concentrate, and feel less productive or focussed. Tiredness can also make us less rational and reasoned in the choices we make. In other words, our resistance lowers when we have had less sleep. Research has shown that our brain responds differently to higher calorie foods when we are tired, meaning we are less likely to be able to resist them.

The metabolism

Lack of sleep also has a physiological impact on the body, altering the balance of appetite hormones, blood glucose regulation systems and our metabolism. When we are tired, our bodies contain more of a hormone called ghrelin, this is a hormone that increases appetite. Thus, when we are deprived of sleep we often feel more hungry. In addition, studies have shown that restricting sleep can reduce our bodies ability to breakdown glucose; a characteristic similar to what is seen in diabetes.

The heart

Sleep provides the body with an opportunity to regenerate and reset. Scientists believe that the ‘recharge’ that occurs in deep sleep is important for glucose regulation as well as providing an opportunity for the body to lower heart rate and blood pressure. Hence, sleep and quality of sleep play a crucial role in maintaining heart health, blood pressure and allowing the brain to ‘wash out’ toxins that accumulate during the day.


When we have not had sufficient sleep our body experiences physiological changes that drive appetite and less healthy choices. Sleeping well means we are more likely to have the energy to be more active and make healthier choices. Sleep also helps our metabolism function normally, and helps regulate blood pressure and reduce risk of heart problems.

I will continue this sleep series in my next post covering points that might help improve sleep quality. However, if you have concerns about any aspect of your sleeping routine, please visit your GP for further advice.

In my consultations I will often ask about sleep routine and sleep quality with my clients. Find out more about my consultations here.