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Optimising Sleep: Improving Your Sleep Health

How to improve sleep health

How much of your life do you spend asleep?

The average person sleeps roughly 8 hours per night, so that’s one third of your life in la-la land. That is on average 229,961 hours sleeping the night away.

So given you spend a third of your life doing it, in our mind, it makes sense to optimise it as much as possible.

In this blog, we will cover some of the benefits of a good night’s kip, how to work out how much sleep you need and also how to improve your night's sleep.

How much sleep do you need?

So, you may have heard that when it comes to sleep 8 is the magic number, well according to Dr. Michael Breus, a sleep specialist, the average person only needs 7.5 hours of sleep a night. But it’s important to know we are all different thanks to our sleep drive which is genetically predisposed, this means one size doesn’t fit all.

What are health impacts of a lack of sleep?

Being sleep deprived (getting less than your body needs) for a prolonged period can have some serious impacts on our health, from memory loss to high blood pressure and a weakened immune system.

This is why Matthew Walker in his book ‘Why We Sleep’ writes that “Wakefulness is low-level brain damage,”. There is more and more research emerging that there is a relationship between lack of sleep and Alzheimer’s disease. Clearly, it's not a huge sample size but both Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan famously spoke about how little sleep they needed and they both developed Alzheimer’s.

So, it may be tempting to view sleep as a setback in productivity taking the ‘I’ll sleep when I’m dead’ attitude but that attitude could bring you to the pearly gates early.

So how can you work out how much sleep you need?

One method we have found to be effective is to work back from when your alarm is set.

If you need to be up at 7:00 you should aim to be asleep by 23:30. Keep this consistent bedtime and alarm for 10 days, if you find yourself waking up just before your alarm by the end of the 10 days this would suggest that 7.5 hours sleep is just right for you.

If not, then you want to bring that bedtime half an hour earlier and try getting off at 23:00, you can repeat this process until you wait up without the need for an alarm. For most people that will give you an indication of how many hours you need per night.

How can you improve your sleep health?

There are absolutely tons of ways you can improve your sleep health/hygiene, we’d encourage you to do your own research and to take a continuous improvement approach with your sleep.

For this blog, we will focus specifically on maintaining a healthy circadian rhythm.

Circadian rhythm of course sounds bedroom related, but I promise it's relevant to sleep and not just a back-alley Kamasutra move.

Circadian rhythms are in fact physical, mental, and behavioural changes that follow a 24-hour cycle. These natural processes respond primarily to light and dark and affect most living things. The circadian rhythm we are referring to here is the sleep-wake cycle.

Our body takes signals from its surroundings, during the day, light exposure generates alertness helping to keep us awake and active. As night falls, our master clock initiates the production of melatonin, a hormone that promotes sleep, that’s why you will feel a noticeable shift in the afternoons in winter and why it can be so much easier to work until 9pm in the summer.

Building healthy Circadian Rhythm habits

  •       Seek out natural light, especially close to when you wake up – this will help you awake cycle kick in properly
  •       Keep a consistent bedtime – as discussed earlier, set a bedtime every day based on your wake up time, it may be tempting to alter this on the weekend but the more consistent you are the better the results
  •       Keep active daily – the more active you are during the day the more this will help you sleep at night
  •       Try going caffeine-free or certainly no caffeine in the 12 hours before bedtime (yes, caffeine is still active in your system 12 hours later so consider that 3pm coffee carefully)
  •       Limit light exposure before bed this sends signals to the brain which stimulates alertness, making it harder for you to sleep – having one hour before bed with no artificial light can be challenging but the effect on your sleep is immense
  •       Cut down on the booze – some people don’t realise just how much alcohol robs you of your REM sleep.

We speak a lot about creating positive feedback loops, you’ll notice that every part of your life is positively affected by a good night’s sleep. All the advice above doesn’t cost anything and can be built into your daily routines, this low hanging fruit will give some weighty returns.

Give it a go and let us know how you get on.

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