We spend around 1/3 of our lives asleep and it’s an essential process for the brain, allowing it to rejuvenate and therefore function properly. Lack of sleep can have a big impact on mental health and, according to the Mental Health Foundation, not getting enough ZZZs increases the risk of poor mental health.
Too little sleep can affect the memory and thought processes, as well as decreasing our body’s immune response. It can even lead to depression. The recommended amount for adults is 7-8 hours per night, however, it’s important to remember that everyone is different and this isn’t always easy or possible to achieve. It’s not just the amount of hours you’re in bed that matter, it’s also the quality of shuteye you get.
Here are a few things you might not already know, which can affect your sleep:
Vitamin and mineral deficiency
Our bodies need the right vitamins and minerals in order to keep functioning properly and that includes sleep. Many of us are deficient in the essential mineral, magnesium, and this has been found to cause insomnia, so eating foods such as leafy green veg, pumpkin seeds and almonds can up your intake. You can take magnesium supplements or use a spray, but check with your doctor first before taking these.
A lack of potassium, found in bananas, avocados, dark leafy greens and fish, can lead to difficulty staying asleep throughout the night. Additionally, calcium, a vital mineral found in dairy, helps the brain to manufacture melatonin: the hormone that lets us drop off. So drinking a glass of milk or a hot milky drink before bedtime isn’t just an old wives’ tale!
You may find that drinking alcohol in the evening helps you drop off faster, but evidence suggests that it reduces the quality of sleep we get (even one or two drinks!). A review of 27 studies in 2013 showed that alcohol doesn’t improve sleep quality and reduces rapid eye movement (REM) sleep. REM is the dream stage, happening around 90 minutes after falling asleep, and is believed to be restorative. And, the more you drink closer to bed time, the less quality sleep you are likely to get. The experts say it’s a good idea to have at least a few nights of the week when you don’t drink any alcohol.
I know, we’ve all heard this before, but what might surprise you is that drinking caffeine, even in the early afternoon, can still impact on your sleep that night. Once in the body, caffeine stays in the system for several hours: it takes about 6 hours for 1/2 of the caffeine to be eliminated. One study found that consuming caffeine 6 hours before bedtime reduced a person’s total sleep time by 1 hour. So, if you think caffeine could be hindering your sleep, try swapping your afternoon coffee, tea or energy drink for herbal tea or juice because this could well make a difference.
Just like caffeine, nicotine is a stimulant, so if you smoke, you are likely to get less sleep. Furthermore, it’s not just the quantity, but the quality of your sleep which is likely to be affected. The closer to bed time you smoke, the greater the impact on your sleep, a study found. If you would like to find out how you can stop smoking, you can read the NHS’ self-help tips.
As you can probably imagine, falling asleep with the TV on can be disruptive to our sleep, but it may not only be because of the noise. There is also evidence which suggests that the LED light the screen emits can have a negative impact. This also goes for phones, tablets and other electronics – so if you struggle with sleeping we suggest cutting down on using these just before going to bed. Try curling up with a good book (or Kindle) instead!
To find out more and to access advice about sleep, the Sleep Foundation can provide a lot of useful information and tips so visit: https://sleepfoundation.org/.