This weekend in the United Kingdom, we moved to British Summer Time and lost an hour’s sleep. I’ve blogged about sleep a lot but I’m not apologising – it’s important. I run courses designed to help people overcome sleep problems and when I mention this to other people I can guarantee that they say “I wish I could come on that” which just shows how common sleep issues are.
Common problems are short or interrupted sleep and these can be caused by a variety of issues such as stress, life events, environmental factors and medication. Adults sleep on average about 7 hours a night and this can become less as we grow older. This is much less than people slept in pre-industrial, pre-electric lighting times.
Prolonged periods of short or interrupted sleep can lead to physical and mental health problems. One problem relates to weight control. Lack of sleep elevates the creation of the hormone ghrelin*. This forces up the consumption of carbohydrate by up to 35-40% which can lead to weight gain. Individuals with restricted sleep tend to be heavier.
Poor sleep can also affect the immune system. Natural killer cell activity is down by 28% after one night’s disrupted sleep. Levels of cancer are higher in people with disrupted sleep and shift workers. A study of medical students in America, who work long and irregular hours, have shown that it impairs performance and can lead to accidents at work and at home.
There are some simple things you can do to get a better night’s sleep. Start with your bedroom environment and make your bedroom a sleep haven. Make sure your bedroom is cool, dark and well ventilated. Remove the TV and computer from the bedroom.
If it is worry or stress that is keeping you awake, there are lots of techniques that you can learn to use such as breathing techniques, visualisation and meditation. Consider seeing a hypnotherapist for some help.
*Sleep: A Very Short Introduction, 2012 by Stephen W Lockley and Russell G Foster