Sleep is the best medicine by Sara Niven
15th Oct 2018
With the clocks going back this month, Sunday October 28th has been declared the UK's National Sleep In Day in a bid to get us all considering the importance of sleep and ideally to get more of it! Journalist and counsellor Sara Niven explains...
Experts recommend around seven to eight hours a night, but around a third of us get less and the problem is increasing. The latest survey carried out by The Sleep Council revealed that 12% of us try to function on under five hours a night, up from 7% in 2013. Sometimes that’s because it is practically impossible to manage more (most new parents are well aware of that!) but often sleep simply doesn’t come easily for a range of reasons; stress and worry, being disturbed by a partner and noise are reported as being the top three.
Whatever the issue, lack of, or very disturbed sleep can leave us tired, inefficient and snappy in the short term. In the long term, sleep deprivation has been linked to serious health issues, such as heart disease, diabetes and strokes. It also takes a toll on our appearance –people talk about ‘beauty sleep’ for good reason.
“You can spend a fortune on skin creams, cosmetics and watch your diet, but sleep is essential for glowing skin,” confirms Lisa Artis, sleep advisor at The Sleep Council. “When you sleep, a whole raft of functions take place to make sure we get optimal benefit. The body goes into repair mode and regenerates skin, blood and brain cells as well as muscles. Sleep also regulates mood, helps keep your memory sharp and has a big part to play in maintaining general health, weight and energy levels.”
As someone who often has serious issues dropping off, I identify with the problems of regularly not getting my quota. My previous habit of watching Netflix until a whirring brain finally admitted defeat, then dragging myself up, bleary eyed, when the alarm went off a few hours later, wasn’t proving particularly helpful or healthy.
I’ve realised there is a big difference between mental and physical tiredness. After a long day sitting at a desk, or lengthy, rush-hour commute, we may crave an early night, but an underworked body may have different ideas. Now, if I haven’t been physically active, I make the effort to at least take a twenty-minute walk, if an hour’s exercise isn’t practical. Of course, any dog owners will have that already built in as part of their daily routine.
Sometimes the opposite is the case; our bodies are physically drained, but we can’t switch off an active mind. Again, exercise can help but in the form of simple stretching or gentle yoga – meditation is another very useful tool with 12% of us reporting using it to help with sleep compared to 8% five years ago. It can be well worth taking a few guided meditation classes to get started.
Otherwise, anything you find calming (someone I know plays the card game Patience before bed as they find it soothes their mind) which doesn’t take too much concentration can help you switch off.
“It’s really important to be in the right frame of mind for sleep,” adds Lisa. “There’s no point hopping into bed seconds after meeting an urgent deadline or with your mind still going over a to-do list. Ideally allow an hour to relax before you plan to sleep, avoid screen time and lay off the caffeine and alcohol.”
The idea of a national day encouraging a lie in sounds very appealing and can be useful for a short-term catch up, but Lisa points out that a regular pattern is the ideal and more beneficial.
“Just like children, we all benefit from a routine so if you can, try sticking to the same bedtime and waking time as it will programme you to sleep better.”
One final word. There may be little we can do about noisy neighbours, snoring partners, work routines or crying children but where we sleep is something most of us can control. More than a quarter of Brits staggeringly report sleeping in an uncomfortable bed and 29% are using a mattress over seven years old. After reading this I realised mine was well over a decade and invested in a much more comfortable new one – it really has made a difference. Happy lie in everyone.
Our SenSpa Boutique will be launching our very own SenSpa Sleep Therapy Range next month. Keep your eyes peeled...
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