Why Britain needs to learn to sleep better

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Written by littlegoode

“Beds are for sex and sleeping, nothing else.” These were the words of Dr. Dawn Harper on ITV This Morning’s sleep clinic this week, as new figures reveal that Brits suffer from some of the worst sleep problems of any nation in the world. Too many of us are willing to sacrifice sleep in order to do something else, whether that’s catching up with the workload or having a night out with friends. The younger generation in particular, are suffering from anxiety, termed ‘FOMO,’ or ‘the fear of missing out.’

Busier lives, louder living environments and technology are all to blame for the fact that none of us are getting enough good quality sleep. And with revelations by the National Academy of Sciences linking lack of sleep to obesity, diabetes and even an increased risk of drug abuse, learning how to get back to sleep has never been more important.

The sleep challenge

As a working student with twelve final deadlines and a demanding job, I’m used to feeling pretty whacked, but recently I’ve noticed that my energy levels are at an all time low. Despite eating better, exercising more than I have in my life and taking multi vitamins, I’ve felt more exhausted and fatigued lately, leading to me crashing badly in the afternoons. This has also left my sleep pattern in a total state of distress, and I’ve found myself waking up in the night and sleeping late into the morning, which then wrecks my concentration again for another day. In a desperate bid to get back to feeling like myself, I’m setting myself a sleep challenge, which includes using many of the techniques doctors are now recommending to the staggering 87% of people (according to a This Morning poll) who aren’t sleeping well.

1 – Make your bed a positive space

Or, more accurately, don’t make it a space at all. Studies suggest too many of us are making our beds a haven and somewhere to live in or, if you lie awake at night, a space of frustration and anger. Beds are for sleeping in only. Instead of getting into bed and watching TV or waking up and staying under the duvet, use your bed simply as a thing to sleep on. Dr. Dawn suggests that, if you get into bed and can’t sleep, you should get up and go do something else. If you don’t nod off straight away, you’re not tired enough to be in bed in the first place.

2 – Have a routine

As far as possible, try to go to bed at the same time and get up at the same time the next morning. Not having a routine is confusing for the body clock and also means you’ll be forcing yourself to go to sleep when you’re not really tired, and struggling to wake up when you are.

3 – Don’t sleep too much

It might sound like what I’m saying is that people aren’t getting enough sleep, but actually it’s all about people getting just enough of good quality sleep. Sleeping too much has been proven to be detrimental, as it leaves you sluggish and unaware for the rest of the day, whereas getting a solid 8 hours of really good, uninterrupted sleep can make you feel fresh as a daisy the next day. This is where getting to bed at the right time is important, and also sleeping through the night without waking up.

4 – Put the technology down

There have been hundreds of studies in the last few years that prove how bad our attachment to our tech has been for our sleeping patterns. The light from smart phones and tablets convinces our brains that’s it’s still day time, and prevents us from getting any sound sleep. Ideally, you should try to put your phone and computer away an hour before you decide to go to bed, but just not taking either to bed with you is a good start. Equally, when you wake up in the morning, don’t reach straight for your phone. Not only is it damaging to your eyes again, but you’re less likely to get up for a while, meaning you’re going to start the day feeling tired again instead of refreshed. 

Putting it to the test

There’s a lot of solid science to prove why we’re not sleeping as well as we used to, and technology and the desire to always be in touch and on the ball seem to be the biggest factors. As life gets more stressful and busier, it’s pretty clear that sleep is often going to be sacrificed, but it’s also evident that making small changes could go a long way towards feeling more energised.

For the next two weeks, I’m going to be setting myself a bedtime, ditching my lie-ins and abandoning my phone in the hope that I’ll actually feel better, more focused and more invigorated. Will it work? I’ll check back in soon.

Do you have problems sleeping? What techniques have worked for you? Let us know in the comments below and check back soon to see the results of TV Editor Alex Goode’s personal Sleep Challenge.