Sleep Awareness Week is here and what better time to remind us all the importance of a good night’s sleep.

Do you consistently get less than six hours sleep?
Or, do you frequently wake during the night?

If you do, don’t fear, as we have a few practical sleep hygiene tips to help improve your sleep patterns. 

But first, let’s explain why we need 7 to 8 hours of sustained sleep.

Consistently researchers are finding that low levels or interrupted sleep wreak havoc with our hormones. For instance, one particular study tracked the insulin sensitivity of individuals who were made to sleep less than six hours a night.

For those that don’t know the importance of being sensitive to this hormone (by the way exercise is really good at improving this), insulin signals the body to clear your blood sugars and store fat. Therefore if you lose sensitivity to it you become overweight and risk developing diabetes.

Now, in less than one week their insulin sensitivity dropped by 40% which is equivalent to carrying an extra 10kg of fat!

Further to this, researchers from Stanford University discovered that people who sleep less than five hours a night had 15% more ghrelin and 15% less leptin than those who slept eight hours or more.

Ghrelin is a hormone that when elevated makes us feel hungry while leptin makes us feel full;

so essentially these people would crave certain foods more and be less likely to be satisfied at the end of a meal.

Now sleep can be complex and there are a myriad of reasons why some people don’t get enough. These basic sleep hygiene techniques should help you get a more restful nights sleep.  

But if you are struggling with your sleep, here are a few suggestions:

  1. Have a consistent schedule for sleep time. This aligns circadian rhythms from one day to the next, so that melatonin production is at optimal levels for sleep preparation.
  2. Use relaxation exercises just before going to sleep. This helps switch your mind off from past and future events and enables a better night’s sleep
  3. Do not eat within 2-3 hours of sleep, this can decrease your sleep quality.
  4. Avoid caffeine and stimulants after midday.
  5. Don’t drink too much water the hour before bed to avoid waking to go to the toilet at night.
  6. Avoid alcohol in the few hours before bed. Although it can be sedating, it affects the chemical messengers associated with various sleep phases, and is particularly disruptive to the REM phase causing wakefulness or restlessness.
  7. Keep your bedroom as dark as possible and avoid screens (computers, smartphones etc) for the 30 minutes before bed. Artificial light will affect your melatonin production and your body will feel that it’s not ready for bed.
  8. Keep moving on a daily basis, it is your body’s way of naturally regulating it’s hormones and neurotransmitters. However, try not to perform high intensity exercise late at night.

If you are still having difficulties getting to sleep after implementing these strategies, it’s best to speak to your GP about any underlying health issues that might be causing problems.