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How to get a good night's sleep

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If you find yourself tired, feeling down and unable to concentrate during the day, it’s likely that you’re not getting enough sleep.

Here we share how much rest you actually need as well as our top tips for easing your way into a better night’s sleep.

How much sleep do you need?

Not everyone needs the same amount of sleep. Some people get more tired than others or need more due to medical reasons. On average, adults need between 7 and 9 hours of sleep each night. Children need 9 to 13 hours, and babies and toddlers need 12 to 17.

Benefits of a good night’s sleep

A good night’s sleep can have a big impact on your general physical and mental health. Here’s why sleep is so important:

  • Sleep aids concentration. Sleep deprivation can impact your brain’s functionality, causing you to have slower reactions, a shorter attention span and to find it harder to make decisions.
  • It’s linked to a healthier weight. People that don’t sleep well tend to overeat and choose unhealthy foods that are high in sugar to keep them awake during the day. A lack of sleep can also increase your appetite whilst decreasing your motivation to exercise.
  • Sleep reduces stress. Feeling stressed is a common cause of insomnia. However, getting a good night’s sleep can actually have a positive impact on your stress levels, causing the body’s stress response to relax.
  • It improves immunity. Bodies rest and repair during sleep, fighting off any foreign invaders such as those of the common cold. This makes you less likely to fall ill or helps you to recover faster during sickness.
  • A healthier heart. Adequate sleep is linked to a decreased risk of high blood pressure and coronary heart disease, as well as diabetes and stroke. This is because our heart rate and blood pressure drops during sleep, allowing for rest and lower stress hormones. A lack of sleep can also cause a buildup of fatty deposits in your arteries, which can lead to coronary heart disease.
  • Improves your memory and learning. Our brain organises experiences and information from the day whilst we sleep. This helps you to restore anything you’ve learnt and converts short-term memories into long-term ones.
  • Better mood. A lack of sleep can increase your chances of low mood and anxiety. This is due to the fatigue, stress and general grumpiness caused by having poor sleep.

What happens when you don’t get enough sleep?

Frequent poor sleep can have a damaging impact on our physical and mental health. This is the time when our bodies rest, repair and process the day’s learnings. If not given this chance, it can therefore cause a lower immune system and increase your chances of serious medical conditions including heart disease, diabetes, obesity and stroke. Sleep deprivation can also cause low mood and irritability, as well as serious mental health issues including hallucinations and sensory dysfunction.

Even for those who don’t have any side effects, a lack of sleep puts you at risk. It impacts driving ability and reaction times as well as your judgement when making decisions. This can put you in dangerous circumstances, particularly if you operate machinery.

Why do we get sleep problems?

There are many reasons why you may struggle to sleep: 

  • Medical problems: you may be in pain, need to take medication during the night or frequently need the toilet
  • Getting older: older people typically don’t need to sleep as much as younger people
  • Anxiety, stress or depression: mental health issues can lead to worrying or negative thoughts that stop you from sleeping
  • Lifestyle: you may have a busy life that limits how much you’re able to sleep or you may work nights
  • Travel: if you have jet lag from being in a different timezone you will likely have a disrupted sleep pattern
  • Poor sleeping environment: a room that is too hot or cold, or an uncomfortable bed can make it more difficult to sleep

Sleep and mental health

Our mental health is closely linked to how well we sleep. Poor sleep can negatively impact our mental health, causing tiredness, irritability and low mood. Whilst living with a mental health problem can in turn cause poor sleep. For example, making it difficult to fall or stay asleep, hard to wake up, making you sleep a lot during the day or causing disturbances during sleep such as panic attacks.

Sleep and diet

What we eat can determine how well we sleep. Some foods and drinks such as chamomile tea are thought to induce sleep. Whereas others including sugar, cheese and caffeine can make falling and staying asleep harder. Sleep is also impacted by when you eat. Doing so at irregular times or too close to bedtime can interrupt your sleep pattern.

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Why is it harder to sleep when you get older?

It’s common for older people to sleep less well than when they were younger. Your sleep becomes lighter making it easier for you to wake in the night due to noise, physical health conditions and discomfort. You may also be less busy and active meaning you don’t require as much rest.

Sleep disorders such as sleep apnoea and teeth grinding are also more common in older age. As are daytime naps that in turn reduce the amount of needed sleep at night.

Common sleep disorders

There are various sleep disorders that can be the reason for interrupted sleep. The most common is insomnia, the inability to stay or fall asleep either at night or early in the morning. Other disorders include narcolepsy (sudden muscle weakness leading to sleep), restless legs syndrome and sleep apnoea (frequent snoring and stop/start breathing).

How are sleep disorders treated?

You should speak to your GP if you think you have a sleep disorder. Depending on their diagnosis, you may be offered different types of treatment including:

  • Sleep clinic - your GP may refer you to a specialist clinic that will test things like your breathing and heartbeat as you sleep to understand if you have a sleep disorder
  • Medication - prescription sleeping tablets are a short-term solution for insomnia however you may also be given other medication such as antidepressants, stimulant medications or a CPAP machine that helps those with sleep apnoea
  • CBT - a type of talking therapy that will help you to avoid the thoughts and behaviours that negatively impact your sleep

Sleep hygiene

Sleep hygiene refers to the environment and things we do which impact our sleep. This could be anything from our mattress to the amount we exercise during the day. The goal of sleep hygiene is to create the ideal conditions for falling asleep easily, staying asleep throughout the night, and waking up feeling rested and refreshed.

Below are some sleep hygiene tips you can try to help you achieve a more restful night's sleep.

  • Create a sleep routine and stick to it

    Where possible, get into the habit of getting up and going to bed at the same time each day – even if you’re not working. Our bodies have an internal body clock that can adapt well if given a routine to follow. Plan for 7-9 hours of sleep each night, even on weekends, and don’t compensate for a bad night’s sleep by napping or having an extended lie-in as this can throw off the whole schedule.

  • Exercise every day

    Exercise is a great way to de-stress, unwind and tire yourself out, which is why you should incorporate it into your daily routine if you’re having trouble sleeping. Just remember not to exercise vigorously right before you go to bed as this may keep you awake longer.

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  • Cut back on caffeine

    Avoid caffeine altogether in the afternoon and evening. Switch to decaf alternatives, caffeine-free soft drinks and herbal teas. The best drink for a good night’s sleep is something caffeine-free and sugar-free, like peppermint or camomile tea.

  • Make your bedroom a restful environment

    To be comfortable and conducive to sleep, your bedroom should be kept at a comfortable temperature – neither too warm or too cool – and should have curtains or blinds on the windows that keep it dark when you’re sleeping. It should also be very quiet. Consider repositioning appliances in neighbouring rooms to avoid sound coming through the walls. You may also want to stop pets from sleeping in your bedroom if they make a lot of noise during the night.

  • Unwind before trying to sleep

    It’s recommended that you spend at least one hour “unwinding” before you try to sleep. This will mean different things to different people, but essentially the idea is to switch off from the day’s activities and start preparing your brain and body for sleep. Try taking a warm (but not hot) bath, doing some light stretching, some stress-relieving breathing techniques, reading or listening to an audiobook.

  • Use earplugs and an eye mask

    If the environment you’re sleeping in is noisy or too bright, using earplugs and an eye mask can be really helpful. Alternatively, if you prefer not to sleep in total darkness you can try using a night-light. A relaxation soundtrack (on a timer) will also help if you find that you sleep better with ambient noise.

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  • Track your sleep

    Get a better understanding of your sleep patterns and sleep quality with Fitbit. Fitbit’s smartwatches include sleep tips and helpful tools, simply wear your Fitbit watch at night. Discover the benefits of waking up slowly with silent alarms as well as bedtime reminders, which you can use to create your ideal sleep schedule.

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Sleep aids

You can try taking over-the-counter sleep aid medication such as Nytol to help you sleep better. These are only intended for short term use (1 to 2 weeks) so speak to your pharmacist beforehand.

If you’re experiencing severe insomnia or symptoms of other sleep disorders, it’s worth contacting your GP. You can also talk to a member of our pharmacy team about treatment options available. They'll be able to find the most suitable product for you.