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Health and Wellbeing Tips - Sleep

Dr Sara Kayat of HSF discusses why healthy sleep routines are important for your physical and mental health.

Dr Kayat explains how those who regularly get the less than recommended seven to eight hours sleep each night are at a higher risk of health conditions such as heart disease, diabetes, and stroke. Not only can a lack of sleep result in physical health conditions but can also affect us psychologically and make certain situations harder to cope with.

The following are some hints and tips given by Dr Kayat on how to get a better night sleep:

· Better Routines: Repeating the same bedtime routines every night will give your brain the sleep cues it needs to know when it is time to unwind and prepare for bedtime.

· Sleep Aid Medications: It may be tempting to resolve any sleep issues with over-the-counter sleep aids, however for most of these medications, the evidence for clinical effectiveness is limited. Many of these formulations that you can buy from the pharmacy are antihistamines, similar to those you would use to treat allergies, and are repackaged as sleep aids due to their drowsy side effects.

· Screens: So before reaching for the tablets, there are several sleep hygiene methods that you can adopt to try to improve your sleep first. This includes avoiding blue or white light before bedtime. Your TV, laptop, and phone can all omit this wavelength of light, and using them at night confuses your circadian rhythm as it acts as an environmental cue to your body that it is daytime. If you are desperate to use these devices, switching on ‘night mode’ may help, but ensure that you don’t watch anything too stimulating, and avoid watching anything while in bed as it should only be used as a haven for sleep. Try to make your bedroom a calm environment, ensuring insulation from noise, and using blackout curtains to help shade from the early rising sun.

· Caffeine: It may seem obvious but avoiding caffeine will also help. As a stimulant, it seems only natural to compensate for poor sleep with excess caffeine the next day, however its effects may be long lasting and cause disturbed sleep. As it can take up to 8 hours for our bodies to metabolise caffeine, it is not recommended to drink any caffeinated drinks anytime from 6 hours before bed. Many may also want to reach for a night cap to aid sleep, and whilst alcohol can indeed relax you and promote falling asleep, unfortunately it tends to cause a more restless and poor-quality sleep.

· Vitamin D Deficiency: There are several studies that link low levels of Vitamin D to poor sleep quality and duration. Vitamin D is mainly made through a reaction from the sun on our skin, but during the months October to March in the UK we are not often able to make enough Vitamin D. It is therefore suggested that during those months adults in the UK take a 10mcg supplement of Vitamin D. So, whilst it is summer, it is worth taking advantage of those daylight hours to optimise your Vitamin D levels and hopefully better sleep may follow.

· Relaxation: Other sleep hygiene methods can include relaxation techniques. This may take the form of a warm bath, for example. It’s not just an old wives’ tale that a bath before bed will send you to sleep, and there is evidence to show that if you take a warm bath one to two hours before bed, the rise in temperature, followed by the drop in temperature when you then enter a colder room after taking a bath induces sleep. Self-care can be a big part of relaxation and it doesn’t need to be extravagant, but simply treating yourself in the evening with body lotions or lavender scented candles can make starting a bedtime routine an enjoyable process.

· Emotional Wellbeing: Anxiety can also affect sleep, so finding ways to manage this through practices like yoga, mindfulness and meditation may also help, and for some, talking therapies like CBT (cognitive behavioural therapy) may also be useful. I often recommend leaving a pen and paper by the bedside table, so that if there are any anxieties, worries or tasks that you are ruminating over, keeping you awake, you can write them all down and address them the following morning.

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