Everyone needs sleep. It is almost as important to your health and wellbeing as food. Although your body always makes sure you get enough sleep to survive, getting enough sleep to feel refreshed, alert and ready to face the day isn’t always so easy.
The amount of sleep we need at night to feel refreshed and alert the next day is individual. Most people need 6 - 8 hours of sleep a night.
The amount and quality of sleep you get can be affected by many things, including:
- How comfortable you are
- Light, sound, cold, heat
- Being hungry or thirsty
- Anxiety and/or stress
- Physical illness or pain
- Mental health problems such as anxiety and depression
- Drugs, alcohol
- How much exercise you’ve had during the day
Alcohol is often thought of as a sedative or calming drug. While alcohol might induce sleep, the quality of the sleep is often fragmented during the second half of the sleep period. Alcohol increases the number of times you awaken in the latter half of the night when its relaxing effect wears off. Alcohol prevents you from getting the deep sleep and Rapid Eye Movement (REM) sleep you need because alcohol keeps you in the lighter stages of sleep.
With continued consumption just before bedtime, alcohol's sleep-inducing effect might decrease but its disruptive effects continue or increase. The sleep disruption resulting from alcohol use might lead to daytime fatigue and sleepiness.
Drug use can also affect people’s sleep patterns, particularly stimulants such as amphetamines, cocaine, crack cocaine and ecstasy. It may take several days, weeks or months for your body to recover from using and therefore your sleep pattern may take time to re-settle. People with sleep problems can often try to self-medicate in order to induce sleep, taking over-the-counter remedies or buying prescription medication off the street or over the internet. This can start a vicious cycle of not being able to sleep, using medication to cope and then not being able to sleep without the medication, thus a dependency on medication begins.
Sleep Hygiene Advice
- Get up at a regular time which should really be before 9:30am and stick to it even if you haven’t had much sleep. Then go to bed at a regular time, which will encourage your body to recognise a sleep pattern.
- Exercise as much as possible – morning or afternoon is best. This will help your body to use any excess energy, making it easier to fall asleep. Exercise is also a great way to help alleviate symptoms of anxiety or depression.
- Reduce or stop illicit drug or alcohol use – as mentioned above, this will not help your body to fall into a regular sleep pattern.
- Don’t drink caffeinated drinks in the two to three hours before you go to bed. Caffeine is a stimulant so could keep you awake when you’re trying to sleep. The same applies for cigarettes which are also stimulants.
- Don’t be tempted to self-medicate with buying medication off the street or over the internet – you can’t guarantee what they contain and you may be leaving yourself open to creating another addiction.
- Have a warm bath and a milky drink before bed – yes it sounds predictable but it can help.
- Try reading a book or listening to music to fall asleep to. Having the TV, phone or tablet on in the bedroom isn’t the ideal environment in which to fall asleep.
- Try not to nap throughout the day; this can affect how tired you will be at night, which may result in not being able to fall asleep or not feeling tired at all.