We all know the feeling each morning when we wake and swear to ourselves that tonight we will have an early night, yet when this night comes how often do we keep our word?

Sleep disorders such as snoring, sleep apnoea, insomnia and restless leg syndrome affect about a quarter of the UK population, leading to excessive daytime sleepiness [1]. These conditions require medical intervention in order to manage their symptoms and improve sleep patterns. On the other hand, sometimes lack of sleep is a result of lifestyle and behavioural choices such as shift work, jet lag, long working hours, alcohol use and use of other drug stimulants and these are the aspects that we have a lot more control over in order to improve our sleeping pattern.

Why is sleep so important?

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Sleep plays a vital role in good health and well-being throughout your life. Getting enough quality sleep at the right times can help protect your mental health, physical health, quality of life, and safety [2]. Many studies have shown that sleep deficiency is strongly connected to increased body weight and fat mass, increasing the risk of obesity.

How is sleep connected to body weight?

Your appetite is regulated by 2 important hormones; Ghrelin – which makes you feel hungry and Leptin – which makes you feel full. When you are well rested, your body is able to maintain a healthy balance of these 2 important chemicals. However, lack of sleep drives Leptin levels down and boosts levels of Ghrelin in your body, stimulating your appetite, causing you to eat more and hence leads to weight gain [7].

The psychological manifestations of fatigue, sleep and hunger are very similar and so are easy to confuse, which is why quite often we tend to eat when we feel tired as we think fatigue is a sign of hunger. A study in Chicago monitoring hormone levels, appetite and activity demonstrated this in healthy men who had been sleep deprived for 2 days [5]. During sleep deprivation the men’s appetites increased correspondingly with rising Ghrelin and falling Leptin levels. More specifically, the researchers noted a significant rise of 45% in craving for high carbohydrate, calorie dense foods during this time [6].

Furthermore, sleep deprivation has been directly linked to levels of body fat in a large study of 1000 participants in Stanford University [7]. Those who slept the fewest hours per night had a greater body weight and fat mass compared to those who slept for 7+ hours per night. Insulin – the hormone that controls your blood sugar levels is also affected by sleep. Lack of zzzz’s contributes to higher blood sugars forcing a greater production of insulin. Over time the body will develop a resistance to this rising insulin production, aggregating the risk of type II Diabetes.

How much sleep is enough?

The amount of sleep you need each day will change over the course of your life. The National Heart, Lung and Blood institute [2] has developed the chart below to show general recommendations for different age groups.

sleep mistakes

Age	Recommended Amount of Sleep Newborns	16–18 hours a day Preschool-aged children	11–12 hours a day School-aged children	At least 10 hours a day Teens	9–10 hours a day Adults (including the elderly)7–8 hours a day

They also note that if you routinely lose sleep or choose to sleep less than needed, the sleep loss adds up and this is called your sleep debt.

The national sleep council [3] and sleep foundation [4] list the following as the most common sleep mistakes people make

1. You go to sleep too late and then try to catch up the next day

Stick to the same bedtime and wake up time, even on the weekends. This helps to regulate your body’s clock and could help you fall asleep and stay asleep for the night.

2.    Work too hard just before going to bed

Plan a relaxing routine activity 1 hour before you sleep to help your body wind down e.g. reading or taking a hot bath. Avoid strenuous exercise and bright artificial light, such as from a TV or computer screen as the light may signal the brain that it’s time to be awake. Keeping your bedroom, cool calm and lit with a dim light can help also.

3.    Nap in the afternoon

Power napping (20 minutes maximum) may help you get through the day, but if you find that you can’t fall asleep at bedtime, eliminate these from your routine.

4.    You don’t exercise

Exercise daily! Vigorous exercise is best, but even light exercise is better than no activity and try to spend some time outside in the fresh air. However, allow 2-3 hours after exercise to wind down before bedtime.

5.    You drink alcohol, caffeine, cigarettes, and heavy meals in the evening

Alcohol disrupts the quality of sleep you have. Caffeine (including caffeinated soda, coffee, tea, and chocolate) and Nicotine are stimulants, and both substances can interfere with sleep. The effects of caffeine can last as long as 8 hours so monitor your caffeine intake during the day. Eating big or spicy meals can cause discomfort from indigestion that can make it hard to sleep. It is good to finish eating at least 2-3 hours before bedtime, however sometimes a snack rich in the amino acid Trytophan can promote restful sleep such as a glass of milk, piece of toast with peanut butter or a handful of sunflower and pumpkin seeds.

6. You use your bed for all sorts of things

If you can’t sleep, go into another room and do something relaxing until you feel tired. Keep your bedroom solely for sleeping and avoid doing other tasks in this environment e.g. work, watching T.V etc. This will strengthen the association between bed and sleep and removes any stressors of daily life from your sleeping environment, helping you to relax.

The UK sleep council [3] recommends that if you’re still having trouble sleeping, you should speak with your doctor. They may ask you to keep a diary of your sleeping pattern to help you evaluate common patterns or issues with your sleep or sleeping habits.

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