A good night’s sleep

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We spend a third of our lives doing it. Napoleon, Florence Nightingale and Margaret Thatcher got by on four hours a night. Thomas Edison claimed it was waste of time.

So why do we sleep? This is a question that has baffled scientists for centuries and the answer is, no one is really sure. Some believe that sleep gives the body a chance to recuperate from the day’s activities but in reality, the amount of energy saved by sleeping for even eight hours is miniscule – about 50 calories, the same amount of energy in a piece of toast!

We have to sleep because it is essential to maintaining normal levels of cognitive skills such as speech, memory, innovative and flexible thinking. In other words, sleep plays a significant role in brain development.

What would happen if we didn’t sleep?

A good way to understand the role of sleep is to look at what would happen if we didn’t sleep. Lack of sleep has serious effects on our brain’s ability to function. If you’ve ever pulled an all-nighter, you’ll be familiar with the following after-effects: grumpiness, grogginess, irritability and forgetfulness. After just one night without sleep, concentration becomes more difficult and attention span shortens considerably.

With continued lack of sufficient sleep, the part of the brain that controls language, memory, planning and sense of time is severely affected, practically shutting down. In fact, 17 hours of sustained wakefulness leads to a decrease in performance equivalent to a blood alcohol level of 0.05% (two glasses of wine). This is the legal drink driving limit in the UK.

Research also shows that sleep-deprived individuals often have difficulty in responding to rapidly changing situations and making rational judgements. In real life situations, the consequences are grave and lack of sleep is said to have been be a contributory factor to a number of international disasters such as Exxon Valdez, Chernobyl, Three Mile Island and the Challenger shuttle explosion.

Sleep deprivation not only has a major impact on cognitive functioning but also on emotional and physical health. Disorders such as sleep apnoea which result in excessive daytime sleepiness have been linked to stress and high blood pressure. Research has also suggested that sleep loss may increase the risk of obesity because chemicals and hormones that play a key role in controlling appetite and weight gain are released during sleep.

How much sleep is required?

There is no set amount of time that everyone needs to sleep, since it varies from person to person. Research would seem to indicate that people like to sleep anywhere between 5 and 11 hours, with the average being 7.75 hours.

Jim Horne from Loughborough University’s Sleep Research Centre has a simple suggests that we ask ourselves one simple question: “How much sleep do you require in order not to be sleepy in the daytime?”

Are you getting enough sleep? Take this sleep profiler test. http://www.bbc.co.uk/science/humanbody/sleep/profiler/ 

Sleep disorders

At some time or another many of us experience sleep problems, but it’s difficult to define what normal sleep is as everyone is different. Age, lifestyle, environment and diet all play a part in influencing the amount of sleep we need.

If sleep problems are a regular occurrence we may be suffering from a sleep disorder. Sleep disorders, can include snoring, sleep apnea, insomnia, sleep deprivation, and restless legs syndrome, and are common with many people. Insomnia is one such sleep disorder that can affect many of us which is not surprising in today’s stressful world symptoms can be stress, anxiety, depression, or an underlying health condition.

Sleep apnea is another common sleep disorder which affects the breathing while sleeping and can be potentially serious, if you suspect you have sleep apnea you should consult your doctor. This common sleep disorder can also be associated with people who are overweight.

Sleeping well is essential to our physical and emotional well-being Unfortunately for all of us sleep deprivation can take a toll on our mood, energy, efficiency, and ability to handle stress. For those people wanting to lose a significant amount of weight in a healthy manner it can be difficult, so medical experts recommend treating sleep problems first.

Do’s and Don’ts that may help improve your sleep pattern.


  • Create a regular exercise routine 3-4 times per week, and always do it well before bedtime.
  • Try to set a regular time to go to bed choose a time when you normally feel tired, so that you don’t toss and turn. If you want to increase the hours you sleep try small daily increments of 15 minutes earlier or later each day.
  • Create a peaceful sleep environment adjust the darkness in your bedroom to what works best for you. Keep the temperature of the room at a comfortable level.
  • Do try herbal tea with passion flower or chamomile which has a mild sedative property, to help combat the effects of insomnia
  • Wake up at the same time each day if you’re getting enough sleep you should wake up naturally without an alarm. Also try to maintain your regular wake up time even on the weekends.
  • Turn off the television as many of us use the television to fall asleep or relax at the end of the day, or you may have a television in your bedroom. But don’t forget that television stimulates the mind.
  • Have a bath add some aromatherapy oil, just before you go to bed say about an hour before.
  • If you suffer from depression and depending upon the severity of it, you may need to get help. People who suffer from depression can tend to have interrupted sleeping patterns.


  • Don’t go to bed hungry have a light snack and avoid a heavy meal before bed.
  • Try to avoid falling asleep if your find yourself getting sleepy before your bedtime. Do something mildly stimulating such as washing the dishes or getting your clothes ready for the next day.
  • Avoid catching up on your sleep during the day try to strengthen the association of your bed and bedroom with sleep by only going to bed when you feel sleepy.
  • Don’t lie in your bed agitated if you can’t sleep, after a half hour, move to a different room and do something relaxing until you feel sleepy again.
  • Avoid snacking on foods that raises your blood sugar levels, late in the evening like biscuits, sweets, fruit, and white bread.
  • Don’t eat any spicy foods before bedtime
  • Don’t do any homework, finances, or work projects before bedtime
  • Drinking alcohol in the evening can affect your ability to stay asleep, and may result in frequent waking. Alcohol is a diuretic, and will also cause frequent bathroom visits during the night.
  • Consuming caffeine (including coffee, caffeinated tea and chocolate) less than four hours before you go to bed will act as a stimulant. Caffeine, like alcohol, is also a potent diuretic that could cause you to wake up to go to the bathroom.
  • Don’t eat a large meal it takes up to four hours to digest a meal, which can keep you awake so wrap up meals early.



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