IT’S one of the most important things we can all do for our health – get enough sleep. Yet that gold standard of eight hours a night evades so many of us.
Sleep is an essential function that allows your body and mind to recharge, leaving you feeling refreshed when you wake up.
Sleep deficiency can increase your risk of heart disease, high blood pressure, obesity, stroke and diabetes. It can even affect your fertility and sex drive.
To mark World Sleep Day on Friday, this week I’ve taken a look at some specific snooze-related problems.
Q) IT takes me ages to get to sleep. What am I doing wrong and how can I get to sleep faster?
A) We cannot tell our brain to switch off and go to sleep, so we are dependent on it doing this automatically. But we can train our brain to know when it is time to sleep.
The best way to do this is by having a consistent bedtime routine. Try to eliminate screen use for at least an hour before bed, eat your last meal at least three hours before bed, and have an activity that you do each night which informs the brain it is approaching the time to sleep.
This could be reading a book, having a bath or relaxing with a milky drink. Your bedroom should be as cave-like as possible – dark, quiet and cool.
Sleep experts tell us that the bedroom should only be used for two things – sleep and sex.
Q) MY daughter is three years old and keeps waking with night terrors. What can I do?
A) Night terrors are fairly common in children aged between three and eight. An episode may see your child shouting, screaming and thrashing around or even trying to get out of bed. Their eyes will be open, but they are not fully awake.
Terrors tend to happen earlier in the night and can last up to 15 minutes.
The best thing to do is just stay calm and not intervene. It’s likely to be a phase that will pass, but it is worth checking with your child to see if anything is worrying them.
Children do not remember night terrors the next day and they don’t cause any long-term harm.
Q) I WAKE up tired, no matter what time I go to bed. What can I do?
A) We GPs use an acronym for this. It’s TATT, which means “tired all the time”. There are hundreds of possible causes, which could be physical, mental or social. Sometimes, a specific cause is never found and things just get better.
If you have already considered your sleep routine then I would suggest having a think about other aspects of your lifestyle.
Are you eating well and exercising? Are you stressed? If things are getting worse and there are additional symptoms – especially things such as poor appetite and unexplained weight loss – or the tiredness persists for more than a few weeks, you should see your GP.
Q) I WAKE up in the night sweating, but at 34 I’m too young to be menopausal – what could be causing it?
A) Night sweats are when you sweat so much that your night clothes and bedding are soaking wet, even though the room where you’re sleeping is cool.
There can be many different causes – hormonal, infection, stress, anxiety or alcohol use. Some types of medication can cause it, too. Often it just goes away after a short phase.
If this is a symptom that is persisting for weeks, especially if you are feeling unwell or noticing other changes, you should make an appointment with your GP.
Q) ARE sleep trackers really worth it, and what do they tell you?
A) Sleep trackers are very popular. They come in different forms, from mobile phone apps to wearable gadgets.
I use a Garmin watch, which tracks my sleep alongside something called the “body battery”.
I can see when I was asleep and how deeply I slept, and how much my body battery is recharged. It has also helped me understand how activities, such as exercise, affect the quality of my sleep.
Knowledge is power, and this is true when it comes to sleep.