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Welcome to the Health Defence Blog - a blog about health, wellness and a healthier you. Brought to you by the Health Defence team at Chest Heart & Stroke Scotland, you'll find up-to-date information on a range of topics from what's in your food to the latest advice on e-cigarettes!


Megan - Health Promotion Specialist

August 7, 2016

Do you fall asleep in meetings? But then struggle to fall asleep when it really matters most? Sounds familiar doesn’t it. Not only does a good night’s sleep make you feel better, look better and have more energy,  but too little sleep can also lead to weight gain and a range of life-threatening illnesses.

Why is sleep important?

No one really knows why we need sleep! But what we do know is that we feel a whole lot better for it!

It’s thought that sleep allows the body to replenish and repair itself. In fact, a good night’s sleep is linked to better concentration, good decision making and generally feeling happier and less irritable.

How much sleep do we need?

There is no perfect amount of sleep as it varies from person to person. Generally speaking, most adults should get between 7-9 hours of sleep each night. Another good gauge is how you feel when you wake up in the morning – if you wake up feeling alert and energised, chances are you had enough sleep.

The hours in which we go to sleep can also make a difference, for example, trying to get some shut-eye before midnight is thought to be more beneficial than the hours after midnight.

Most of us will bounce back from having the odd poor night’s sleep, but prolonged disturbed sleep (also known as insomnia) can:

  • Increase your chance of catching a cold – too little sleep affects our immunity
  • Lead to weight gain and obesity due to higher calorie intake – not enough sleep can affect our hunger hormones, particularly ‘ghrelin’ which stimulates hunger.
  • Increase your risk of heart disease, high blood pressure and diabetes – persistent lack of sleep may increase our heart rate and levels of inflammation in the body
  • Affect your mood and emotions, increasing feelings of anxiousness or depression

Sleep like a baby

Did you know that babies sleep for up to 17 hours a day! And whilst adults don’t need to sleep for that long, here are some tips for getting a good night’s sleep:

  • Avoid large meals at night – too much food can affect our ability to sleep. Including some wholegrain carbohydrates, such as sweet potato or brown rice may help to make you sleepy.
  • Monitor fluid intake before bed – be aware of how much liquid you are drinking … too much may result in frequent toilet breaks in the early hours.
  • Avoid caffeine after 2pm – caffeine is a stimulant (i.e. it keeps us awake) and can still be working in our body for up to 8-14 hours. Coffee, tea, energy and cola drinks are all examples.
  • Alcohol is also a stimulant – enjoying 1-2 drinks in the evening is OK, but any more than this can disrupt a deep sleep.
  • I like to move it, move it – exercise can help to normalise your body clock. Some gentle stretching before bed can aid sleep. However, avoid strenuous exercise in the evenings, which can actually wake you up!
  • Be a stickler for routine – try to go to bed at the same time each day, and wake up at the same time each morning. Once you wake up, resist the urge to hit the snooze button and put your feet on the floor – movement helps the waking process.
  • Snoring partner? Loud neighbours? Loud noises can make it harder to fall asleep and stay asleep. Invest in some earplugs to minimise these sounds. Some background white noise might also help.
  • The darker the better! Our ability to sleep is unsurprisingly affected by light – as it gets darker, a hormone called melatonin is produced and makes us sleepy. Help along this process by blocking out any sources of light in your bedroom or use an eye mask.
  • Switch off electronics at least 30 minutes before bed – artificial light can interfere with the production of melatonin. Avoid watching TV or using mobile devices in the bedroom. It can help to charge your phone away from the bedside. At the very least, turn your phone face down (no-one needs Facebook updates at 4am!).
  • Now that your electronics are away, unwind with a good book, take a bath or listen to some calming music.
  • Mind running wild? Try writing down all of your thoughts, worries, things to do – this helps to clear the mind and prepare the body to relax.

Living with a chest, heart or stroke condition can mean that you experience tiredness more often. Read our Coping with tiredness’ factsheet for some helpful tips.

Image credit: © Paulus Rusyanto | Manager work overtime and sleep on laptop

***Disclaimer: always seek medical advice before starting a new diet, exercise regime or medication. The information in these articles is not a substitute for professional advice from a GP, registered dietitian or other health practitioner.

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