Sleep information

“Tired nature’s sweet restorer, balmy sleep” Edward Young (1685-1765)

Sleep is essential for feeling well and for functioning in our daily lives. Although long thought to be simply a chunk of time that the brain and body shuts down and rests, it is now known that sleep is made up of different stages of sleep that cycle through the night, that perform different functions. For instance some stages restore the body so that we feel rested and energised when we awake and others that assist the brain to store memories.

This depends very much on your age:

 AgeSleep needs (per day)
Newborn babies0-3 months14-17 hours
Infants4-11 months12-15 hours
Toddlers1-2 years11-14 hours
Preschoolers3-5 years10-13 hours
School age children6-13 years9-11 hours
Teenagers14-17 years8-10 hours
Adults18-64 years7-9 hours
Older adults65+ years7-8 hours

Older adults may find it harder to enter deep sleep more than once in any one sleep. Often older adults will enter deep sleep within the first 3-4 hours and then wake easily after that.

The amount of sleep anyone needs is individual to them with most people finding that 8 hours suits them whilst some (very few) can function and feel fine on only 3-4 hours per night.

The occasional missed or reduced night’s sleep is nothing to worry about, you may feel tired the next day but that is the only effect. However after several sleepless nights you may feel like you have not had enough sleep, or even if you have slept for the hours, you still feel tired. You may also:

  • feel tired all the time
  • fall asleep during the day
  • have difficulty concentrating or making decisions
  • start to feel depressed and down
  • begin to worry about not getting enough sleep and not being able to sleep

A long term lack of sleep has been linked with high blood pressure, diabetes and weight problems.

Common everyday reasons for not sleeping well include:

  • bedroom surroundings such as light levels, noise, temperature, uncomfortable bed
  • irregular sleep routine
  • not enough exercise
  • eating too late
  • drinking alcohol, smoking cigarettes, drinking tea, coffee or other caffeinated drinks (including energy drinks)
  • going to bed hungry
  • illness, pain

More difficult to solve causes include:

  • emotional problems (e.g. stress, depression or anxiety)
  • physical health problems (e.g. heart disease, breathing problems, neurological problems, overactive thyroid, joint or muscular pain, gastrointenstinal disease such as reflux or IBS, urinary problems such as incontinence or enlarged prostate and chronic pain

Some medication side effects can also disrupt sleep patterns e.g. stopping tranquillisers and sleeping pills or using some slimming pills.

Firstly it is useful to try and identify what is causing your poor sleep and address that directly. It is also a good idea to make sure that you are getting the basics right such as:

  • Build a habit of preparing your mind and body for bed, so that your body and mind know that it is time to sleep
  • Find out what works to relax you physically and mentally and then do this every night
  • Make sure you are eating right and that your food or drink is not causing or contributing to your poor sleep
  • Make sure that you are getting enough exercise or not exercising too late
  • Make sure that your sleep hygiene habits are helpful

The Bedtime Helper can help improve your sleep by encouraging you to form a powerful habit ofstarting the “going to bed” routine at the same time each night. This can kickstart a powerful learnt association between your body-clock and winding down physically, mentally and emotionally. By using the Bedtime Helper each night over a number of weeks this habit of going to bed at the same time will become more powerful and it is more likely that you will get to sleep quicker when you get into bed. The Bedtime Helper can give you sleep notifications to remind you to start your personalised bedtime routine in order that you build a healthy habit. There are also some useful sleep promoting hints and tips.

  • Reduce brain stimulation before bed by dimming the lights, listening to low tempo relaxing music or some light reading
  • Regular relaxation for body and mind (e.g. treating yourself to a massage or doing progressive muscle relaxation)
  • Practice being more aware of your emotions and proactively winding down and calming down by relaxing or making a list of things on your mind
  • Learning long-term tools to quieten the mind (e.g. practising a mindful approach to life or using mindfulness meditation)
  • Mindfulness meditation can help to relax the body and mind in order to prepare for sleep. It can also over time, help to reduce the impact of the build-up of daily stresses.

Some foods and drink (such as those containing caffeine) can act as stimulants on the body or mind and can interfere with sleep, whereas foods containing Tryptophan can help with sleep.

Food and drink that can help promote sleep:

CheeseWhole grainsBeans

Too little physical activity or too much too close to the time you wish to go to sleep can interfere with going to sleep. Developing a physical activity routine that helps your body feel tired, keeps you fit and healthy but is not too close to your bedtime is vitally important. Recommended physical activity levels for adults to maintain fitness are 150 minutes per week of moderate exercise. Moderate exercise is considered any physical activity that raises your heart rate, makes you breathe faster and feel warmer. A good way to tell if you’re working at a moderate level is if you can still talk, but you can’t sing the words to a song whilst doing your exercise. So if you are doing less than the recommended physical activity, it might be an idea to increase your activity levels.

It is important to make the area that you sleep in conducive to rest and sleep. That means making sure that the bed and bedroom environment are suitable:

  • The bed should have a mattress that is firm or soft enough for you and it should not be sagging
  • Sheets and duvet cover need to be clean, fit well and soft
  • The duvet needs to be the right thickness for the climate and season
  • The pillows need to be soft enough for you
  • The bedroom should not be cluttered
  • It should be clean and smell nice
  • Dust levels should be kept to a minimum
  • Light levels should be adjusted to suit what you feel comfortable with
  • Temperature is another factor that can help or hinder sleep and should be adjusted to suit you
  • Noise levels can be hard to control but wearing earplugs can help reduce noise that you have no control over

Sometimes it is somebody you share the bed with that causes, contributes to or maintains sleep problems. Common problems include:

  • Snoring
  • Nightmares/night terrors
  • Their sleep habits (e.g. going to bed late, watching tv in bed)

Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) may help common mental health problems such as depression, anxiety and stress and minimise the impact these might have on sleep.

BedTime Helper was made by PsyNovigo, a company that develops software based on psychological rseearch