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Sleeping your way to good health: the benefits of a good night’s rest

sleep for health

It’s a well-known fact that sleep is essential for our health and wellbeing. Lack of sleep can leave you feeling drained day-to-day, but it can also have consequences in the long term. Sleep is the time you rest and repair, which is essential for mental and physical health. Lack of sleep can lead to mental health issues and make it harder for those struggling to see any improvement. 

“Prioritising quality sleep is vital for overall health and wellbeing, so stick to a routine and practise good sleep hygiene such as avoiding screen time late at night,” says Jon Booker, Physical Wellbeing Expert at Westfield Health

The connection between sleep and mental health  

Not getting enough sleep, or having poor quality sleep, means that your brain can struggle to process information and emotions.  

Lack of sleep can influence mood and emotional reactivity, and it’s tied closely to mental health disorders and their severity. Lack of sleep leads to worrying and worrying leads to poor sleep. You end up in a vicious cycle of poor sleep where your lack of sleep harms your mental health, which then increases the likelihood of you having poor sleep. 

It can be difficult to keep a regular sleeping pattern in the winter months, but a consistent night-time routine can have a big impact on your mental health. If you feel your mood slipping, build a healthy daily routine and try to stick to it, as this can help regulate your emotions and feel prepared for the days ahead. “Getting your daily exposure to the sun, eating earlier in the evening, and turning off devices before bed can also be beneficial to regulate your sleep pattern,” adds Jon.  

Five tips to help you sleep better: 

1. Keep a regular sleep routine 

A regular bedtime will help your body to produce sleep-regulating melatonin more consistently. This happens because you have an internal mechanism that counts down to sleep to send signals to your body that it’s time for bed. 

It can be difficult to resist a lie-in, but they can disrupt this mechanism and lead to you wanting to sleep later even if you don’t need to. If you struggle waking up with a traditional alarm, try a daylight alarm clock. These gradually introduce light into your room and wake you up gently the same way the sun would, rather than having your sleep disrupted by a sudden loud noise. 

2. Go to bed when you feel sleepy 

Unlike other health inputs like nutrition and exercise, sleep can’t be forced. Often the harder you try to go to sleep, the more difficult it becomes. A great way to combat this is to only go to bed when you’re sleepy, not just tired. Sleepy is the feeling you get when you’re about to drop off, and once you’re at the stage it can be a lot easier to fall asleep. 

As your wake up time becomes more regular from having a sleep routine, you will get sleepy at an appropriate time. When your body is adjusted to your routine you’ll find that you get sleepy at a similar time each day and that it correlates with your wake up time to give you the amount of sleep you need. 

3. Give yourself time to unwind before bed 

Working too close to bedtime prevents your body from effectively transitioning into rest mode, spoiling the quality of your sleep during the night ahead. Try to leave at least an hour and a half between finishing work and going to bed. 

There are also a few other things you can do to help you feel ready for bed. Warm baths and showers help you to relax and unwind, letting your body know that it’s time for sleep. Other ways to unwind include reading a book, doing some bedtime yoga or drinking something calming such as warm milk or chamomile tea. 

4. Reduce your time on blue screen devices 

Phones, tablets and laptops all emit blue light, which mimics the sun and disrupts our melatonin (the hormone that helps us sleep) production. In a perfect world, these shouldn’t be used at all before bed, but we know it can be difficult to completely cut them out of your routine in modern life. 

If you can’t resist, try a blue light reducing screen protector to limit emissions. You could also opt to use them in a more productive way for sleep, such as using mindfulness apps or podcasts designed to lull you into sleep. 

5. Try the 4-7-8 technique 

The 4-7-8 breathing technique is a breathing pattern developed by Dr Andrew Weil. It’s based on a technique originally developed through yoga called pranayama, known to help people gain control over their own breathing. 

It’s quite simple to do, and can be achieved by following these five simple steps: 

  1. Exhale completely through your mouth 
  2. Close your mouth and inhale quietly through your nose for a count of four 
  3. Hold your breath for a count of seven 
  4. Exhale completely through your mouth for a count of eight 
  5. Repeat the cycle three more times 

Physical and mental wellbeing depends on getting a good night’s rest and improving your sleep can help you to live a more well-rounded, healthier life.   

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