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Tired all the time? How to get better sleep
Sleep deprivation is a key global issue that is having a particular impact in east Asian cities.
According to a 2014 profile of 43 cities, people in Singapore are getting an average of six hours and 32 minutes sleep, those in Seoul fewer than six hours, and Tokyo’s inhabitants are the most sleep deprived, with only five hours and 44 minutes.
These cities are widely associated with people working harder and achieving more, and as consequence people may be missing out on too much sleep. We take a closer look at how sleep deprivation can affect our everyday lives.
Sleep myth #1
Truth: While teenagers don’t require as much sleep compared to babies, adults require even less sleep.
A baby aged 6 months requires around 11 hours of sleep per day, as the child grows into a teenager they require even less; around 9 hours of sleep per day. Adults require 7-9 hours of sleep per day.
How bad is sleep deprivation for my health?
According to the National Health Service (NHS) in the UK, sleep boosts your mood and immunity, while increasing fertility and libido. Sleep deprivation, on the other hand, has been linked to long-term mood disorders such as depression and anxiety, type 2 diabetes, increased heart rate and higher blood pressure.
In 2013, the University of Surrey’s Sleep Research Centre in the UK studied the effects of reducing sleep by just one hour.
The results showed that sleep deprivation affects our genes, approximately 700 of them. Researchers found an increase in the activity of genes that govern body processes such as inflammation, immune response and stress, and also the genes associated with diabetes and cancer risk. The reverse happened when an hour of sleep was added.
Research by the University of Zurich found that male students – aged 18 to 28 years – sleeping for 5 hours a night made riskier decisions about money than if they had slept for 8 hours. The research concluded that lack of sleep can lead to an increase in what they call risk-seeking behaviour.
Am I getting enough sleep?
There is no hard and fast rule about the number of hours you should be getting. Sleep scientist Patrick Fuller says that sleep should be restorative, leaving you feeling refreshed. On a basic level, if you struggle to wake up in the morning and it takes you a few hours, or several cups of coffee, to feel energised, you’re probably not getting enough sleep.
According to Nick Littlehales, an expert sleep coach, we sleep in cycles of 90 minutes rather than 60. Each restorative cycle takes us down into a deep sleep, where we place the day’s memories in our long-term storage, and then up into rapid eye movement sleep (REM), where we begin to process the emotions of the day.
Five cycles is the optimum amount to enable your body to recover, so if you need to get up at 7am you should be aiming to go to sleep at 11.30pm.
How can I get better sleep?
- Sleep at regular times – your body craves routine, so don’t be tempted to lie in at the weekends.
- Wind down before bed – as well as the baths and warm (de-caffeinated) drinks we had as children, it’s important to calm your mind. Try writing a to-do list to get the next day’s tasks off your mind.
- Understand the impact of light – blue light – the kind emitted by phones, tablets and TVs – simulate day light, and will cause your body to start waking up. Avoid phones and TVs for an hour or so before bed, and seek daylight in the morning before the light of an electronic device.
- Build the right environment – in your bedroom, avoid gadgets, bright lights and working. Make sure you have good curtains, a comfortable mattress and, if you find it hard to sleep in the heat, good air conditioning.
- Nap if you need to – it’s OK to catch an extra cycle of sleep later in the day, but preferably not too late in the day in case it affects night-time sleep.
- Keep a sleep diary – if you’re still experiencing problems, keep a journal of when you sleep well and when you don’t, taking into account factors such as diet, stress and bedtimes. If you regularly struggle to fall asleep, you may have insomnia and it’s important that you speak to your doctor.
Sleep myth #2
Truth: Sorry, alcohol may help you fall asleep but as little as two drinks can cause less restful sleep and lead you to wake up more frequently.
I’m still not sleeping well – what should I do?
If you are repeatedly finding it hard to fall asleep and stay asleep throughout the night to feel refreshed in the morning, you may be suffering from insomnia. Insomnia can be caused by stress and anxiety; lifestyle factors, such as mental or physical conditions; certain medications; or a poor sleeping environment.
While we may occasionally experience episodes of insomnia, a persistent lack of sleep can have a damaging effect on your mental and physical health, as well as your quality of life. Try following our better sleeping tips and if they don’t help, contact your doctor for a consultation.
Sleep myth #3
Truth: While the body rests during sleep, the brain remains active and still controls many body functions. The US National Sleep Foundation says the brain ‘recharges’ during sleep. It also sorts and processes information from the previous day, vital for learning and memory.
Sleep is vital to your wellbeing. A global health insurance plan can provide you and your family with access to GP consultations and wellbeing benefits, such as health checks, to help ensure you’re in the best possible health while overseas.