The importance of good sleep

Sleep restores our minds, muscles, cells, and almost every other system in our bodies. It’s essential for recovery and restoration, and for keeping us feeling refreshed and rested. As important as it is, sleep can be problematic, especially if we don’t get enough of it, or the quality of our sleep is bad.

Why is sleep so important?

Sleep is essential for our entire body, aiding our brain and muscle function and allowing for recovery from injury or illness. Not getting enough sleep can affect our physical health significantly; in the most extreme cases, lack of sleep can lead to concentration lapses, delayed reactions, and an increased risk of developing conditions such as type 2 diabetes and heart disease.

It’s important to understand the relationship between our sleep and our mental health. When our mental health isn't good, our sleep can tend to suffer. Equally, when we sleep well, this contributes to better mental health.

The amount of sleep we need varies throughout our lives, but the National Sleep Foundation guidelines advise that healthy adults need between 7 and 9 hours of sleep per night. We’re all different so the amount of sleep we need varies, but the quality of our sleep is important for all of us. If your sleep is broken or interrupted, or you don’t think you are getting enough, it might be a good idea to take a look at your sleep hygiene.

What is sleep hygiene?

Sleep hygiene is all about making sure you get good quality sleep, and enough of it. Prioritising sleep as part of your daily schedule and making sure that work or social activities don’t cut into your sleep time are a good place to start if you want to improve your sleep.

What are the best sleep habits?

Creating habits around sleep can help you achieve better quality sleep. Sleep experts recommend trying to build some or all of the following habits into your daily routine:

  • Try to stick to the same sleeping and waking times each day, whether a working day or not.  Don’t let other activities affect this, if possible.
  • Make your bedroom and bed as relaxing as possible; a good quality mattress and pillows to suit your needs, comfortable room temperature, minimal light and noise disruption.
  • Consider having a pre-bed routine, whatever might work for you, relaxing music, reading, a bath, yoga.. Make it a regular occurrence as it helps your body pick up on the signals that bedtime is nearing.
  • Avoid screens for at least half an hour before bed; it is well known that the blue light from electronic devices affects our ability to fall asleep, as it suppresses the release of melatonin, the body’s sleep hormone.
  • Tune in to your caffeine and alcohol intake, try to minimise it, especially in the hours preceding bedtime. 

What if I still can’t sleep?

It’s extremely important to distinguish between those of us who are not giving ourselves enough opportunity to get a good night’s sleep through bad sleep habits, and the smaller but significant percentage of people who are suffering from insomnia. If you or someone you know, are experiencing symptoms such as significant sleepiness during the day, chronic snoring, leg cramps or tingling, difficulty breathing during sleep, chronic insomnia, or another symptom that is preventing you from sleeping well, please consult your GP or a sleep specialist.

Listen to our fantastic sleep episode on the How To Be Happy At Work podcast with Dr Nick Meyer, Psychiatrist and Sleep Expert from Kings College London, for more insights and ideas on how to get a good night’s sleep.