The Importance of Sleep

4 January 2022

People have come to value time so much that sleep is often regarded as an interference to us working harder or longer. It’s become increasingly clear though, that no matter how hectic our lives, we cannot afford to ignore the research. Recent studies reveal the importance of sleep for safety, our mental and physical well-being.

Sleep serves multiple functions. It is critical for us to remain alert and for us to think clearly. Memories are consolidated during sleep, and it plays a vital role in regulating our emotions. It is also needed to sustain attention for learning. A lack of sleep impairs our ability to focus and learn efficiently.

Sleep also helps us restore physically as well as mentally and allows for the organisation of information in our brain. Our body and mind needs sleep to function properly. It is thought to keep our immune system and heart and blood vessels healthy. Sleep is important in our growth development and in maintaining our bodies healing process. It helps the control of appetite and weight. Sleep deprivation causes changes to hormones that allow us to feel full and help regulate hunger and appetite.

Most people don’t get enough sleep

Going without adequate sleep carries both short- and long-term consequences. Perception and judgement can be affected, and this can lead to serious accidents and injury. Lack of sleep can cause moodiness and difficulty focusing. People can also find they’re unable to learn and retain information. Studies have found long term, chronic sleep deprivation can lead to many health issues including obesity, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, gastrointestinal problems, changes in mental wellbeing and even early mortality.

How much sleep does the average person need?

Our sleep needs depend on many things, including age. Over a typical lifespan, the amount of time spent sleeping declines. Newborns need a great deal of sleep, but this declines throughout childhood until adolescence. Most experts agree that the majority of adults need between 7-9 hours sleep.

Measures to ensure the best night’s sleep

Even if a person’s role includes shift work. there are measures to ensure good sleep. Avoid stimulants 2-3 hours before going to bed, including both nicotine and alcohol. Alcohol may cause sleepiness, but it also leads to more disrupted sleep.

  • Eat healthy meals at regular times and avoid large spicy meals 2-3 hrs before bed. It is important to establish a sleep routine of going to bed and waking up as it sets the body’s internal clock. Stick to this routine even on weekends. Natural light anchors your internal clock and helps keep it on a healthy cycle, so let the light in, in the morning and get outside during the day.
  • Ensure the bedroom is conducive to sleep by removing electrical devices from your bedroom, including TV’s, and avoid checking screens such as laptops, mobiles and tablets before bed. It should be dark, quiet and cool (15c-23c). If sleeping during the day ‘White noise’ machines such as fans may help to exclude noise and heavy curtains, or blackout shades may aid in blocking light.
  • Take time to relax before bed, whether taking a bath, reading or watching TV. Avoid stressful, stimulating activities like work which might cause stress and try writing problems down if that arise to avoid taking them to bed.
  • Exercise can be beneficial in helping people fall asleep faster and sleep more soundly. Exercise should be done at least 3hrs before bed though, otherwise it may have the opposite effect.

When our minds are filled with thoughts & worries, we may need extra help to get to sleep​. Possible helpful aids may be:​

Written by Susie Biggin