Dr Alicia Hughes and Miseo Baek
It’s Sleep Awareness Week! At Sprout we know the importance of sleep on health and wellbeing. Here we look at the relationship between sleep and health and highlight some strategies we can all use to sleep better.
Sleep and health, two peas in a pod
Sleep allows our mind and body to recharge1, helping us to wake up feeling refreshed and alert.
Sleep is essential for brain function, including problem-solving and memory.1 We all know that a poor night’s sleep leaves you feeling tired and unable to concentrate the next day. You may notice that you are more irritable or emotional.1 Sometimes people feel cold and more hungry than usual.1 This cascade of effects from a poor night’s sleep happens because your body has not been able to reset.1
Sleep also plays an important role in keeping your body healthy and immune system strong.1 Without sufficient sleep the immune system goes downhill fast. Having a run of ‘bad nights’ makes you more likely to get sick if you’re exposed to a virus.2 Even a small change in the amount of sleep you get could make a big difference to your health. One study found that people who averaged less than 7 hours a night were 3 times more likely to develop a cold than those who slept for 8 hours or more.2 Lack of sleep can also affect how fast you recover from illness.1
Continually not getting enough sleep (sleep deficiency) can increase your risk of health problems. This includes obesity, heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, and stroke.1
So, looking after your sleep is key to looking after your health.
When sleep becomes a problem
Trouble getting to sleep? Waking up often? Tired during the day? Everyone can experience these kinds of sleep problems from time to time. However, some people are more likely than others to be affected by sleep problems.
People with medical conditions commonly report sleep difficulties. Research shows at least two thirds of people with common cardiometabolic conditions (which includes heart disease, diabetes, hypertension, reflux disease, lung disease and arthritis) have at least one sleep disorder.3 Twenty percent of cancer patients have insomnia, which is twice the rate than in the general population.4 Insomnia and other sleep disorders can make symptoms, such as pain, worse.4
Trying to sleep during a global pandemic
Unsurprisingly, people’s sleep has suffered during the COVID-19 pandemic. Disruptions in daily routines and increased stress has contributed to sleep problems for many people.5 According to a review of studies conducted during the pandemic, 35.7% of the global population now experience sleep problems.6
Healthy sleep is important to help us cope with these stressful times. Good quality sleep improves energy levels, mood, motivation, and concentration.1 Studies have even shown that vaccines seem to be more effective when people get sufficient sleep in the night before their vaccination.7
What is good sleep?
A common myth is that we can get by on little sleep. Often sleep is the first thing to be sacrificed when our lives get hectic. Research shows up to half of UK adults report not getting enough sleep.8
Most adults need between seven to nine hours sleep a night.9 After the age of 65 this reduces to about 7 or 8 hours.9 Sleep is most refreshing when it’s continuous and undisturbed. 1 This allows us to cycle through a series of sleep stages; from light sleep, to deep sleep and then rapid eye movement sleep (REM).
How can I get better sleep?
There are several things you can do to help you sleep better.
Practicing good sleep habits such as creating a comfortable sleep environment, using the bed only for sleep, and maintaining a consistent schedule, all help improve your sleep.10
Exercising is also known to improve sleep quality, and even something as simple as walking has been shown to be beneficial.4
For more information this Sleep Awareness Week, visit https://www.sleepfoundation.org/
- Walker, M. (2018). Why we sleep: the new science of sleep and dreams. Penguin Books.
- Cohen, S., Doyle, W., Alper, C., Janicki-Deverts, D., & Turner, R. (2009). Sleep Habits and Susceptibility to the Common Cold. Archives Of Internal Medicine, 169(1), 62. doi: 10.1001/archinternmed.2008.505
- Appleton, S., Gill, T., Lang, C., Taylor, A., McEvoy, R., & Stocks, N. et al. (2018). Prevalence and comorbidity of sleep conditions in Australian adults: 2016 Sleep Health Foundation national survey. Sleep Health, 4(1), 13-19. doi: 10.1016/j.sleh.2017.10.006
- Mercier, J., Savard, J., & Bernard, P. (2017). Exercise interventions to improve sleep in cancer patients: A systematic review and meta-analysis. Sleep Medicine Reviews, 36, 43-56. doi: 10.1016/j.smrv.2016.11.001
- Oxford researchers lead international study on effects of COVID-19 on sleep | University of Oxford. (2021). Retrieved 9 March 2021, from https://www.ox.ac.uk/news/2020-06-12-oxford-researchers-lead-international-study-effects-covid-19-sleep
- Jahrami, H., BaHammam, A., Bragazzi, N., Saif, Z., Faris, M., & Vitiello, M. (2021). Sleep problems during the COVID-19 pandemic by population: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Journal Of Clinical Sleep Medicine, 17(2), 299-313. doi: 10.5664/jcsm.8930
- Prather, A., Pressman, S., Miller, G., & Cohen, S. (2020). Temporal Links Between Self-Reported Sleep and Antibody Responses to the Influenza Vaccine. International Journal Of Behavioral Medicine, 28(1), 151-158. doi: 10.1007/s12529-020-09879-4
- Adults and children not getting enough sleep, risking poor diets and obesity, BNF survey finds – British Nutrition Foundation. (2019). Retrieved 10 March 2021, from https://www.nutrition.org.uk/press-office/pressreleases/sleep.html
- Hirshkowitz, M., Whiton, K., Albert, S., Alessi, C., Bruni, O., & DonCarlos, L. et al. (2015). National Sleep Foundation’s sleep time duration recommendations: methodology and results summary. Sleep Health, 1(1), 40-43. doi: 10.1016/j.sleh.2014.12.010
- What is Sleep Hygiene? – Sleep Foundation. (2021). Retrieved 10 March 2021, from https://www.sleepfoundation.org/sleep-hygiene