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The Importance of Sleep

Did you get a good nights sleep last night? 

30% of the British population didn't. If you are one of those unable to get to sleep last night, whether its because you are a new parent or you have anxieties about work or money or maybe you are aware of every little noise, a fox in the distance or the tick of a clock, the chances are that the more you stayed awake the more you paniced.

How to sleep is the 6th most searched term on Google.  The accepted advice is that we need between 7 and 9 hours of sleep a night and yet the average in Britain is only 6.9 hours.  According to the NHS, 50% of us suffer from insomnia at some point and more than 10 million prescriptions for sleeping pills are given out each year in England alone, costing the NHS a staggering £36 million.  The situation is only getting worse as our lives get busier, we sleep with laptop's on and mobile phones ready to notify us of a message, not only are such things distracting to our sleep, they also provide artificial light which has a direct impact on our bodies ability to rest and recuperate.  

Researchers at the University of Gothenburg warned recently that the increased use of technology has had a detrimental effect on sleep and found links with depression.  They interviewed hundreds of people aged between 19 and 28 and concluded that we struggle with information overload, "Regularly using a computer late at night is associated not only with sleep disorders but also with stress and depressive symptoms in both men and women".  

Dr Nerina Ramlakhan, a sleep and energy therapist at Capio Nightingale Hospital in London runs sleep and energy programme's with top investment banks and sees dozens of new clients with sleep issues every week.  "More employers are recognising the impact this issue is having on their bottom line.  Law firms and Investment banks suffer the worst", she says   "There is a strong link between safety and sleep and we sleep when we feel safe in ourselves, whether that's because we've emptied our inbox or we've got food in the fridge or a job to go to in the morning.  in the past two years I have seen the impact that a lack of security has on peoples sleep".

In fact the effect of prolonged poor sleep can be more serious than just feeling a little lethargic or groggy during a meeting.  it can lead to diabetes, heart disease, obesity, hypertension, a lower IQ, a depleted immune system and even a shorter life expectancy.  So sleep is integral not just to our immediate well being but to our long term health.

How to get a good nights sleep

  1. Take regular breaks during the day - Seeking rest and recovery throughout the day is an effective way of improving sleep quality.
  2. Have a bedtime routine - Allow yourself to wind down before going to sleep.
  3. Manage work-home boundaries - Write a to do list before you leave work for the next day, this leaves you less likely to wake up worrying about outstanding tasks.
  4. Exercise - Regular exercise is one of the most effective ways of reducing stress, thus enabling you to sleep more.
  5. Minimise Stimulants - Caffeine can take up to 10 hours to leave your body.  Alcohol also impairs deep sleep.
  6. If you wake up - Don't look at the clock, just lie back and relax each part of your body, breathe deeply, tell yourself it doesn't matter if I don't fall asleep.
  7. Learn to power nap -  Short naps of 5 to 15 minutes are excellent at promoting energy renewal and increasing cognitive function.
  8. Keep your sleep environment clutter free - Don't bring your work into the bedroom, no laptop or BlackBerry,keep windows open to cool the air.
  9. Let go of wanting to sleep well - If you put pressure on yourself to sleep, chances are that you wont,  this can be particularly prevalent on the eve of big events, important meeting, holiday etc.
  10. Improve your nutrition - In order to get a good nights sleep we need a good balance of the hormones serotonin and melatonin.  Vitamin B6 and tryptophan are needed to boost these levels.  they are found in chicken, cheese, tofu, tuna, eggs, nuts, seeds and milk.  Other sleep inducing foods include oats and lettuce.  Use sleeping aids only as a last resort, Valerian supplements can aid sleep for most people.

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