After a few weeks break over the festive period, it’s not surprising that many of us have trouble in January with the return to work and the early starts that brings. Disruption to our routines can often cause issues with our sleep, either getting enough of it or falling asleep in the first place.
But what if the problem persists? What causes us to struggle to nod off, what problems can come from a lack of sleep and what can we do to improve our sleeping habits?
Why do we sleep?
Despite centuries of research, there is still so much that medical science doesn’t know about sleep. But we do know that sleep, which exists in almost all animal species, is fundamental to health and wellbeing.
In infants, children, and teenagers, sleep is an essential part of physical and mental development. In adults, a prolonged lack of sleep is linked to a broad range of negative health implications, including heart disease, weaker immune system, higher risk of obesity and diabetes, poor memory, and mental health conditions, such as anxiety and depression.
What are the health benefits of sleep?
How long do I have to avoid a food for and do I need to avoid it forever!
Getting a good night’s sleep isn’t just about keeping yawning and grumpiness at bay. A proper rest is essential for many crucial functions in the body, including:
If you always seem to pick up a cold, a lack of sleep could be to blame as a deficiency can disrupt your immune system’s ability to fight infection.
If you’re not getting enough sleep, you might notice your weight start to creep up. Studies have shown that people who get less than seven hours sleep tend to gain more weight and have a higher risk of becoming obese.
Managing mental health
Most of us feel irritable after a restless night. So, it’s not surprising that persistent lack of sleep can lead to long-term mood disorders such as anxiety and depression. In turn, these conditions can cause sleep disturbance which perpetuates the cycle.
Studies suggest that people who get fewer than five hours sleep a night have an increased risk of developing diabetes. Missing out on deep sleep may lead to type 2 diabetes by changing the way the body processes glucose.
Boosting sex drive
Research suggests that people who don’t get enough quality sleep may experience a loss of libido. Additionally, men who suffer with the breathing disorder sleep apnoea tend to have lower testosterone levels which can also lower sex drive.
Preventing heart disease
Sleep deprivation seems to be associated with increased heart rate, an increase in blood pressure and higher levels of chemicals linked with inflammation, which can put extra strain on your heart.
Regular sleep disruption can have an impact on the ability to conceive, according to research, due to the impact on reproductive hormones.
How much sleep should we be getting?
The National Sleep Foundation recommends that healthy adults need between seven and nine hours of sleep per night. Infants, children, and teens need even more sleep to enable their growth and development. People over 65 should also get seven to eight hours per night.
What happens if we don’t get enough sleep?
While the odd night of interrupted sleep will probably leave you tired and distracted the next day, it isn’t likely to do any long-term damage. But if you find that you struggle to sleep more often than not, you could be at risk of a range of health problems.
After several sleepless nights, the mental effects become more serious. You’ll find it difficult to concentrate and make decisions. You’ll also start to experience low mood and may fall asleep during the day. Your risk of injury and accidents also increases.
If it continues, lack of sleep can affect your overall health and make you prone to serious medical conditions, such as obesity, heart disease, high blood pressure, and diabetes.
What can negatively affect our sleep?
There are many reasons, from lifestyle and diet to environmental, that we can struggle to fall, or stay, asleep. Most commonly, we find getting a good night’s sleep difficult because of:
- Too much stimulation before bed, such as TV, gaming, or other screen time.
- Too much caffeine or alcohol
- Noise or light disturbance
- Napping during the day
- Anxiety, stress, or depression
- Poor digestion
Quick fixes for a better night’s sleep
While some causes of poor sleep can be more serious, requiring medical attention, there are plenty of things you can try to increase your chances of a great night’s rest. Try:
- Avoiding alcohol
- Don’t eat too late or drink before bed
- Exercising regularly
- Reducing caffeine
- Saying no to screens. Avoid blue light from your phone
- Setting your bedroom temperature
- Sticking to a routine. Wake up and settle down at the same time each day
- Taking a closer look at your diet
Could your diet be impacting your sleep?
Many of us have experienced a restless night because of eating too much or too late. When we eat a large meal, or perhaps something spicy or rich, our digestion needs to work overtime to process the food, which can make us struggle to sleep.
But if you have a food intolerance, this sensation can happen more often, even when you’re eating what appears to be light or nutritious meals, depending on what it is you’re reacting to. As the body reacts to the food it perceives as a threat, it works harder to fight it, using up energy and causing you to feel more tired that you otherwise would.
The feelings of fatigue can also be a symptom of the stress your body is experiencing from other more typical food sensitivity symptoms, such as irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), cramps, and migraines. Tiredness can also arise from the body not being able to absorb certain nutrients from the food you’re eating, leading to lower energy levels.
Taking control of your diet
Poor sleep can be triggered by many factors. If you’re suffering with the symptoms outlined in this article, it’s important to talk with your GP to rule out anything serious.
If you suspect that something you’re eating could be causing issues that are contributing to your sleep struggles, it might be time to consider the foods you’re consuming.
Getting to the bottom of a food intolerance can be frustrating. Elimination diets, where you remove one ingredient at a time for a few weeks to see how you feel, can take a long time to reveal your triggers. As many of us react to between two and six ingredients, it can be a while before you’re able to see the bigger picture.
Our home-to-laboratory service, using ELISA plate testing, gives you fast, accurate results that pinpoint exactly which foods you are reacting to. Tests are completed in our accredited laboratory by trained experts with clear, easy to understand results sent to you by email within three days.