23 Mar 2022

What to do when you can’t sleep

Written by Ashley
We spend about a third of our lives asleep. Sleep is a basic need for us just like eating, drinking and breathing. It is essential for good mental and physical well-being. However, some of us struggle with falling asleep or getting enough sleep, so let’s find out what to do when you can’t sleep.

Why we need sleep 

As humans we need sleep to survive and thrive. Insufficient sleep can have a significant negative impact on our health. This article will guide you through what to do when you can't sleep.

In the short term, after a poor night’s sleep, you may feel fatigued, short-tempered and distracted. Although an occasional bad night’s sleep can make you feel tired and irritable, it isn’t necessarily harmful to your health. However, after multiple sleepless nights your mental health can become seriously affected. 

In fact, long-term sleep deprivation can increase your risk of developing chronic health issues such as heart disease, obesity and diabetes. Sleep is needed for us to consolidate and store our memories, process emotions and replenish our glucose stores to fuel our brain. 

Moreover, proper and sufficient sleep is essential for a healthy immune system. In fact, long-term lack of sleep can disrupt your immune system making you more susceptible to catching colds and other bugs. Additionally, sleeping enough can help you maintain a healthy weight. In fact, those who sleep less have a higher risk of gaining weight than those who sleep enough. This is because sleep-deprived people have decreased levels of leptin (a hormone that makes you feel full) and higher levels of ghrelin (the hormone that makes you feel hungry). 

It seems that sleep is key for many functions throughout our body. But what can we do to optimise our sleeping schedule if we’re struggling to get consistent rest?


Regularity is key 

If you have a hard time falling asleep at night, keeping a regular bedtime routine is one of the best things you can do for better sleep. Ensuring that you stick to a regular bedtime and waking time on most days of the week has been shown to improve sleep quality. Some people can get away with varying bedtimes, for example going to bed later on weekends compared to weekdays. However for others, and especially for those with insomnia, irregular sleeping hours can do more harm than good. 

In fact, sleeping at regular times programs our brain to adapt to a set routine, which in turn makes it easier to fall asleep. Most adults require between 6 and 9 hours of sleep per night. So, by working backwards from the time you need to wake up in the morning, you can calculate what time your bedtime should be. Similarly, waking up at the same time each day helps your internal body clock to get used to a set routine. 

One study looked at the effects of regularising sleep-wake schedules on daytime sleepiness in individuals. The study population was composed of 2 groups, both were given a lower limit for total sleep time (7.5 hours) however one group had to keep a regular sleep schedule whilst the other did not. In this study, the researchers found that after 5 weeks, subjects in the regular sleep schedule group reported increased and longer lasting improvements in alertness as well as improved sleep efficiency compared to their counterparts in the control group.(1)

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