Sleep is an essential part of our lives, yet few people actively think about how getting proper sleep can improve their performance. Quality sleep plays a vital role in maintaining good health and well-being because it helps protect your mental health, physical health and quality of life.
Role and Function of Sleep
Sleep serves a restorative purpose, both psychologically and physiologically. A good night’s sleep is essential for mental functions such as memory and concentration. Sleep is also important for:
- General physical health
- Restoring energy
- Recovering from injuries or illness
- Psychological well-being and mood
- Work performance
- Sustaining relationships
Effects of Lack of Sleep
How much sleep someone needs varies from person to person. However, most people require around 7-9 hours of sleep each night. Not getting enough sleep can result in:
- Decreased attention, concentration and memory
- Irritability and other mood disturbances
- Impaired judgment and reaction time
- Poor physical coordination
The seriousness of these effects depends on how severe the sleep deprivation is (e.g. less sleep vs. no sleep; one night’s poor sleep vs. chronic problems) and the tasks and responsibilities of your day. If you have ongoing problems with sleep, it’s important to talk with your doctor to figure out ways to improve your sleep quality.
- Get into a routine. One of the best ways to train your body to sleep well is to go to bed and get up at approximately the same time every day, even on weekends and days off. It is important your body stays in a sleep rhythm.
- Sleep when sleepy. Try to only sleep when you actually feel tired or sleepy, rather than spending too much time awake in bed.
- Get up & try again. If you haven’t been able to get to sleep after about 20 minutes, get up and do something calming or boring until you feel sleepy, then return to bed and try again. Sit quietly on the couch with the lights off, or read something boring. Avoid doing anything that is too stimulating or interesting, as this will wake you up even more.
- Avoid caffeine & nicotine. It’s best to avoid consuming any caffeine (coffee, tea, cola drinks, chocolate, and some medications) or nicotine for at least 4-6 hours before going to bed. These substances act as stimulants and interfere with the ability to fall asleep.
- Avoid alcohol. It is also best to avoid alcohol for at least 4-6 hours before going to bed. Many people believe that alcohol can help you fall asleep, but it actually interrupts your body’s ability to get into REM sleep, which is one of the most restorative phases of your sleep cycle.
- Bed is for sleeping. Try not to use your bed for anything other than sleeping and intimacy, so that your body comes to associate bed with sleep. If you use your bed as a place to watch TV, eat, read, work on your laptop, pay bills, and other things, it will be more difficult for your body to learn this connection.
- Avoid naps. It is best to avoid taking naps during the day, to make sure that you are tired at bedtime. If you can’t make it through the day without a nap, aim to sleep for less than 45 minutes and before 3pm.
- Sleep rituals. Develop your own rituals of activities to remind your body that it is time to sleep. Some find it useful to do relaxing stretches or breathing exercises for 15 minutes before bed each night or sit calmly with a cup of caffeine-free tea.
Primary insomnia is persistent problems with sleep that are not resolved by basic treatments for sleep difficulties. These problems can last for more than one month, and may include:
- Difficulty falling asleep – also known as onset insomnia
- Waking up on and off during the night – also known as middle insomnia
- Waking up very early and not returning to sleep
- Unsatisfactory sleep quality
Insomnia is the most common psychological health problem. It has been estimated that 15-30% of the adult population suffers from insomnia, with twice as many women as men suffering. Insomnia becomes more common as we get older, but it affects a range of ages. Most of us experience problems with sleep at some point in our lives, generally when under stress, but you should consider seeking help for what’s called chronic insomnia. This is when your problems with sleep have lasted for more than one month or if you cannot get a good night’s sleep without sleeping pills. If you suspect you have a form of insomnia, we advise you to see a physician.