How to sleep: Seven ways sleep can boost your health – how to sleep better
Sleep deprivation is a common complaint in the UK, with one in three people suffering from it. There are many variables that may disturb a person’s sleeping pattern – the relentless pace of technology is often blamed. It is well understood that a lack of sleep can make people grouchy and not functioning at their best. What may come as a surprise is the enormous health benefits that can be reaped from getting a good night’s sleep.
According to the NHS, here are seven ways in which a a good night’s sleep can boost a person’s health:
Sleep boosts immunity
Sleep offers a robust defence against every cold and flu that’s going around, says the NHS. As the health body explained: “Prolonged lack of sleep can disrupt a person’s immune system, so they are less able to fend off bugs.”
Sleep can be slimming
Sleeping less can lead to weight gain. “Studies have shown that people who sleep less than seven hours a day tend to gain more weight and have a higher risk of becoming obese than those who get seven hours of slumber,” noted the NHS.
Why does this happen? There are many potential causes and it is unclear exactly what underpins it. According to research presented at the European Congress of Endocrinology, sleep loss increases the risk of obesity through a combination of effects on energy metabolism.
The study highlighted how disrupted sleep patterns, a common feature of modern living, can predispose to weight gain, by affecting people’s appetite and responses to food and exercise.
“It’s believed to be because sleep-deprived people have reduced levels of leptin (the chemical that makes you feel full) and increased levels of ghrelin (the hunger-stimulating hormone),” added the NHS.
Sleep boosts mental wellbeing
“Given that a single sleepless night can make you irritable and moody the following day, it’s not surprising that chronic sleep debt may lead to long-term mood disorders like depression and anxiety,” said the NHS.
When people with anxiety or depression were surveyed to calculate their sleeping habits, it turned out that most of them slept for less than six hours a night, notes the health site.
According to the National Sleep Foundation, obstructive sleep apnea, a condition in which a person wakes frequently and very briefly throughout the night, is linked to depression as well.
In one study of nearly 19,000 people, those with obstructive sleep apnea were five times as likely to suffer from clinical depression.
“Researchers believe this is because when sleep is disrupted over and over, it can alter brain activity and neurochemicals that affect a person’s mood and thinking,” the health body explained.
Regular sleep disruptions can cause trouble conceiving
It can ward off diabetes
Studies have suggested that people who usually sleep less than five hours a night have an increased risk of developing diabetes, said the NHS.
“It seems that missing out on deep sleep may lead to type 2 diabetes by changing the way the body processes glucose, which the body uses for energy,” explained the health body.
A meta-analysis of prospective studies published in the peer-reviewed journal Diabetes Care found that those who sleep seven to eight hours a day are at the lowest risk of developing the condition.
Sleep boosts sex drive
Men and women who don’t get enough quality sleep have lower libidos and less of an interest in sex, research suggests.
“Men who suffer from sleep apnoea – a disorder in which breathing difficulties lead to interrupted sleep – also tend to have lower testosterone levels, which can lower libido,” said the NHS.
Sleep increases fertility
Difficulty conceiving a baby has been claimed as one of the effects of sleep deprivation, in both men and women.
“Apparently, regular sleep disruptions can cause trouble conceiving by reducing the secretion of reproductive hormones,” explained the NHS.
One study found that getting an early night could help men conceive, according to a study which found those who went to bed before 10.30pm were up to four times more likely to have good quality sperm.
Men who got around eight hours a night were also more likely to have healthy sperm than those who got less than seven, said the researchers from Aarhus University, Denmark.
Sleep wards off heart disease
“Long-standing sleep deprivation seems to be associated with increased heart rate, an increase in blood pressure and higher levels of certain chemicals linked with inflammation, which may put extra strain on your heart,” said the NHS.
One study published in the journal Psychosomatic Medicine found that a bad night’s sleep may result in a spike in blood pressure that night and the following day.
A spike in blood pressure is significant, as lead author Caroline Doyle pointed out: “Blood pressure is one of the best predictors of cardiovascular health.”
What can be done to help people hit the hay?
The National Sleep Foundation recommends the following tips:
- Stick to a sleep schedule of the same bedtime and wake up time, even on the weekends.
- Practice a relaxing bedtime ritual.
- If a person has trouble sleeping, avoid naps, especially in the afternoon.
- Exercise daily
- Make the bedroom sleep-friendly.
- Sleep on a comfortable mattress and pillows.
- Use bright light to help manage circadian rhythms – a natural, internal process that regulates the sleep-wake cycle
- Avoid alcohol, cigarettes, and heavy meals in the evening.
- Wind down – a person’s body needs time to shift into sleep mode – if a person can’t sleep, they should go into another room and do something relaxing until they feel tired
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