Health benefits of sleep: Are you getting enough?

A good night’s sleep is as important as an essential vitamin, according to new research carried out by the University of Surrey.

Many of us understand the importance of a healthy diet and exercise but what about decent night’s sleep?

It seems many of us are struggling to catch up on shut eye due to the hectic and demanding ways of modern life. From unusual working patterns and long working days, to sharing our bedrooms with an array of gadgets, including mobile phones and tablets, all connecting us to the chaos of the outside world every moment of the day or night.

Unfortunately, this lack of sleep can have a serious impact on our long term health, with links to heart disease, obesity, diabetes, high blood pressure, stroke and depression.

And poor sleep can even affect our genes. Researchers believe more than 700 genes, including those linked to immunity and the control of inflammation, are altered when you sleep for less than six hours a day for a week. Perhaps this explains why too little sleep is linked with a range of diseases.

So when we aim to improve our health by changing our diet and exercise, it seems that we also need to give serious thought to our sleep habits too.

Previous research published by the European Journal of Preventive Cardiology revealed that having seven or more hours sleep a night raises the benefits of a healthy lifestyle.

Researchers found that people who were otherwise living a healthy lifestyle by eating well, exercising and avoiding cigarettes and alcohol had a 67% lower risk of dying from heart disease. However, for those that also had sufficient sleep the risk was lowered even further to 83%.

So just what can you do to make sure that you get enough good quality sleep every night? The Detox Bible explains…

Top tips for better sleep

1. Avoid late night eating
Avoid eating late at night or having a rich or heavy meal in the evening. Try to allow at least two hours after eating a big meal before heading off to bed.

2. Avoid stimulants
Cut down on alcohol and caffeine.

3. Hydrate throughout the day
Try not to fill up on water just before bed. Keep hydrated by drinking small amounts of water regularly throughout the day but avoid drinking large amounts just before bed to avoid wake up calls to go to the toilet.

4. Quit smoking
Give up the cigarettes. The nicotine in your system will hinder you from getting a good night’s sleep.

5. Stick to a bedtime routine
Keep it regular. Try to go to bed and get up at around the same time each day to set your body clock for sleep.

6. Make sure your bedroom is sleep friendly
Make sure that your bedroom is dark, quiet, a comfortable temperature and free from daytime distractions such as work.

7. Get a good bed & mattress
Invest in a good bed and supportive mattress. Your body will thank you for it.

8. Exercise
Exercise – and do it regularly. Even gentle exercise such as yoga or walking can help you to sleep more deeply.

9. Relax
Practise simple relaxation techniques at bedtime to clear your mind before sleep. Close your eyes and focus on breathing slowly and deeply. Or try out visualisation by closing your eyes and imagining a place that is calm and restful.

10. Seek support if you need it
Get help when you need it. Sleep isn’t always easy to come by, particularly if you have young children, care for someone or are going through a particularly stressful period in your life. Don’t be afraid to seek help – see if close friends or loved ones can offer to help out or speak to your GP.

Find out more about sleeping well

To learn more about getting good night’s sleep, visit the Sleep Council website or read the Sleep Council guide to getting better sleep – Get a Good Night’s Sleep.