Sleep. The one thing we can’t seem to get enough of. And if we do happen to get enough, is the quality up to par? In Ireland, about 55% of adults report getting an average of 6-8 hours of sleep per night. Of that cohort, nearly 70% report having low quality sleep.
Quality, frequency, and length of sleep have all conclusively been linked to an increased quality of life. Not only are there positive effects found after consistently achieving quality sleep, there are actually a plethora of negative effects consistent with habitual inadequate sleep. When we sleep, our bodies go through something akin to a full-service car-wash. The immune cells take advantage of the lower bodily energy demands to defend the body with more vigour. The brain takes this opportunity to consolidate and strengthen memories. Beauty sleep, as well, is nothing to scoff at – insufficient sleep is also linked to quicker ageing.
With the added commitments of modern-day life, sleep is slowly being edged out of our priorities. Energy drinks, numerous coffees, and sheer will are facilitating this trend. En masse, adults report an increasing level of sleep deprivation – a trend that is being linked to physiological disorders such as obesity, cancer, Alzheimer’s, dementia, anxiety, and other mood disorders. Disrupted, or deficient sleep patterns have also been implicated in the progression of depression.
Our sleep can be interrupted by any number of things, including our activities before we have fallen asleep. Having caffeine before going to bed leads to a disruption in deep sleep segments of our sleep cycles. The same is true of using a screen without a blue light filter, too close to going to sleep. Interestingly, even lying in bed too frequently throughout the day, without sleeping, can lead to your body redefining its relationship with lying down. Where lying down might have been a signal to go to sleep before, this new association of feeling awake and lying down might prevent quality sleep at night.
When we do get enough sleep though, the health benefits are immeasurable. Your brain is sharper, your mood is heightened (on average), and your heart is healthier. A study in the Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry demonstrated that consistent sleep patterns in children, like adults, are linked to increased concentration and cognitive ability. Adults require approximately 8 hours of uninterrupted sleep per night, but new research suggests that this number can actually range from 6 to 10 hours, depending on the individual.
With that in mind, there are routines that we can establish for ourselves to ensure we are getting the best quality sleep, as often as possible. Getting to bed earlier, avoiding sleeping in irregularly, and reading before bed, as opposed to falling asleep scrolling on Instagram, are all tried, tested, and true methods of creating a better environment to ensure quality levels of sleep.
Vanessa Gomes – Science Writer