Oh yes, the number one subject on all parents’ lips – sleep! How many hours…
It’s well known that sleep is important to support children’s development, both mentally and physically. As a parent, it can sometimes be a struggle to find the time to get some shut eye, however, sleep is also vital for adults. Here, we speak to Lisa Artis at The Sleep Council, to find out a bit more about why getting a good night’s sleep is important, and to weigh up sleep quantity versus sleep quality.
Why is getting a good night’s sleep important?
Sleep, regardless of age, is extremely important to a healthy lifestyle and should not be taken lightly. It is a basic and fundamental human requirement and has restorative functions. As we sleep, tissue grows and repairs itself and the immune system is strengthened. The brain also repairs itself during sleep and researchers believe sleep is critical to healthy brain function. In fact, researchers also believe the brain performs actions vital to learning and memory during sleep. Sleep also affects the levels of hormones and other important chemicals circulating in your body. Getting too little sleep disrupts all of that.
In an ideal world you’d get eight hours of undisturbed sleep every night
While there is no magic number for how much sleep we should get, there is a consensus that around seven to eight hours is best. Experts believe that most adults require somewhere between six and nine hours in order to feel refreshed and to function well both mentally and physically.
In the real world how much sleep does the average adult get?
A third of the population (33%) now get by on five to six hours sleep a night compared to 27% in 2010. And the majority of people (70%) sleep for seven hours or less. * The rise in the number of people getting less than six hours sleep is certainly a concern with research suggesting that mental and physical problems become more pronounced in those sleeping for less than six hours.
The stats all point to the fact that those who frequently get fewer than six hours a night are at significantly increased risk of stroke and heart disease**. Not sleeping enough may ramp up the ‘fight or flight’ response to stress, releasing hormones that speed up heart rate and raise blood pressure. Not only are there increased health risks with routinely sleeping less than six hours but it can also impact on attention, concentration and memory.
What to aim for that can make a difference?
It’s important to not get too hung up on the number of hours you’re sleeping – remember one size doesn’t fit all. While someone may get 6.5 hours sleep a night and function perfectly well the next day, some (i.e. me!) need more like nine hours a night to feel fully refreshed.
So, while sleep quantity is good indicator of where to start when it comes to sleeping well, what is important is that the sleep you do get is of good quality. Make sure you regularly assess your sleep quality and comfort levels.
Good sleep quality is measured by how quickly you fall asleep (ideal is 15-20 minutes), the ability to stay asleep (waking just once per night) and spending most of your time in bed asleep rather than awake. Did you know that interrupted sleep is as bad for you as only getting four hours as night wakings disrupt your natural sleep rhythm and leave you with a poor attention span and a negative mood***.
How to achieve it
Creating – and maintaining – the perfect sleep environment is an essential part of achieving the best possible quality sleep which is vital for health and wellbeing. A restful bedroom environment should be cool, quiet and dark and free from distractions – that means removing computers, tablets, mobile phones and even TVs. Avoid screen time at least an hour before bed as the blue light that emits from these devices’ messes around with your body’s circadian rhythms by suppressing the sleep-inducing hormone melatonin.
Comfort – whether that’s the bed or the bedding – plays a large part in optimising sleep. It’s difficult to get deep, restful sleep on an old, uncomfortable mattress so make sure you look to replace every seven years for optimum support. Use adequate bed clothes and pillows.
To ensure you experience good quality sleep it’s essential to follow good lifestyle habits too such as diet, caffeine and alcohol consumption and exercise regimes. Small changes can have a huge impact on how you sleep.
*Source: The Great British Bedtime Report, 2013
**Source: Chicago Medical School, 2012
***Source: Tel Aviv University’s School of Psychological Sciences, 2014