Why getting the best sleep we can matters to our mental health

Sleep. We all need it.

Most of us carry assumptions, stereotypes and stories about it.

My Granny’s recipe for a good and healthy life was 8 hours sleep, 8 hours work, and 8 hours play. Mum’s answer to almost everything was ‘a good night’s sleep will sort it out’.

As a society we bemoan young people for sleeping too much and look up to those who don’t need much sleep. According to The Sleep Charity, sleep isn’t something we are getting enough of either. Nor do we understand why sleep is important and what does good sleep look like?

That is why the Sleep Charity launched Sleeptember - the campaign to improve our understanding, knowledge and experience of sleep.

Sleep is as important as food and water. On average we spend approximately a third of our lives asleep. Sleep is needed for rest and recuperation, and as such has a huge impact on both our physical and mental health.

The evidence is stark. Sleep is good for us. Lack of sleeps impacts on our mental health and can cause irritability, heightened stress and anxiety as well as depression. It also impacts on our physical health and increases the risk of heart disease and stroke, as well as lowers the immune system.

The evidence shows that those of us who sleep less than 6 hours per night take an additional 6 days off work per year compared to someone who sleeps 7 – 9 hours. Sleep deprivation costs the UK economy £40.2 billion per year.

It is important to put this in context.

We are not all the same. We do not all need the same amount of sleep. We all have our own sleep requirements and our individual responses to the sleep we do or do not have.

I have always been a short sleeper and a relatively light sleeper. I can fall asleep really easily at bedtime and I can count on two hands how many times I have watched a film from beginning to end without falling asleep. I have learned over decades that I cannot control how much I sleep or don’t sleep, but there are things I can do to improve the quality and quantity of my sleep.

Some of the key things that have made a difference for me are tight limits on drinking alcohol, getting rid of the TV in the bedroom and going to bed when I want to rest and sleep, making sure I don’t exercise too close to bedtime, turning off from computers and phones and leaving my phone in the kitchen overnight, making sure the room isn’t too warm, keeping the room as dark as possible and using Headspace sleep meditations when I wake up in the night.

All of us are different. All of us need to get the best sleep we can. The Sleep Charity has a huge amount of advice available on their website. Details about their newly launched telephone helpline are also available on the website.

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