Healthy sleep habits are a cornerstone of a healthy life. Information provided by thousands of sleep studies has led to greater awareness of just how vital our quality of sleep is for overall wellbeing, performance, and even life satisfaction.
It doesn’t take much to upset our sleep patterns, but equally, it doesn’t take much to restore healthy sleep.
How did you sleep last night? How do you normally sleep? Was last night’s slumber better than usual, not as good as usual… worse?
Though we need sleep as much as we do food and drink, many people suffer chronically with poor sleep. In the UK, a third of us are sleep-deprived, and a quarter of us feel sleepy in the daytime as a result (the figures are roughly the same in the U.S.A. too).
What is healthy sleep?
We all need the right amount of sleep, of the right quality, if we are to be able to perform, grow and flourish throughout our lives. The number of hours we need as adults can vary a little depending on age, circumstance and personal profile. Nevertheless, somewhere between seven to nine hours is the de facto requirement. In addition, our sleep patterns need to be regular, with routines of waking and sleeping respected.
Some people have difficulty getting to sleep, others wake frequently or sleep so lightly that they are under the impression that they have barely slept at all. It is a debilitating problem, but with the right guidance, insomnia can be beaten. Most people suffer from disturbed sleep at some point in their lives (due to shift work, major change or worry, for example), but this is usually temporary. This need not turn into persistently poor sleep, healthy sleep habits can be relearned, if necessary.
It doesn’t take much to upset our sleep patterns, but equally, it doesn’t take much to restore healthy sleep, if you know-how and are committed to your slumber-studies. One of the problems is that modern lifestyles often mean that the habits of self-care and attention to our needs are easily pushed aside by things that seem more urgent than sleep. We treat sleep as though it is an option rather than a necessity.
Stress and sleep(-lessness)
Stress is endemic in all developed societies. It has risen dramatically in recent years and a high proportion of people say that it is a regular feature in their lives. As well as the obvious consequences of this – such as performance at work, the effects on mood and relationships – stress affects all sorts of less visible aspects of wellbeing, Healthy sleep combats stress and helps repair the damage it does.
Stress compromises the immune system, which in turn affects physical health. Because of the way our stress response works, when it is prolonged stress affects our psychological health and can eventually produce long-term effects like depression and anxiety, from which some people never recover.
Healthy sleep naturally helps reduce the effects of stress. A regular sleep routine restores mind and body. Healthy sleep improves concentration and judgement and regulates your mood. You become a better problem-solver and are better able to cope with stress when you’re well-rested.
Stress management techniques
Stress, tension and worry are just a part of the poor-sleep cycle, but they are a big part. Stress has a negative impact on your sleep, and insufficient sleep makes you more vulnerable to the effects of stress. Each aggravates the other in a vicious circle.
You can start to break the pattern by practising effective stress management, and by learning to wind down before bed. These two steps should help to restore healthy sleep. To get more information on how to restore healthy sleep download my article The Sleep Spoilers, below.