From blue light emitting screens, to relationship or work worries – in our non-stop, ever wired world, a number of obstacles can stand between us, and a good night’s sleep. In fact, research indicates that many of us struggle to get the recommended eight hours sleep a night1, our Health Check UK report 20162 looks into health and wellbeing in the UK revealing that one in five UK Adults (18%) have suffered from insomnia in the last year.
The NHS describes insomnia as “difficulty getting to sleep or staying asleep for long enough to feel refreshed the next morning .”3 As the amount of sleep needed to feel rested fluctuates from person to person, insomnia is defined by sleep quality, rather than merely by how much sleep you’re getting.
Getting the right amount of quality sleep plays a crucial role in regenerating our bodies and minds and, as Neil Shah from The Stress Management Society indicates, “sleep, like water and food, is vital for the maintenance of physical and mental health.”
We’ve all heard of ‘beauty sleep’ and the positive impact this can have – such as reducing wrinkles and puffy eyes. But the physical benefits of sleep extend much further than aesthetics. The NHS indicate that good quality sleep boosts your immune system, can help people maintain a healthy weight, can help prevent diabetes, increases fertility and can even reduce the risk of heart disease4.
Aside from incredible physical benefits, sleep can also significantly boost mental wellbeing and greatly improve our quality of life. Nicky Lidbetter, CEO of Anxiety UK, told us that “there is a close link between sleep and mental health” and emphasises that “sleep is essential to our wellbeing.”
Echoing Lidbetter’s comment, our most recent Health Check UK report5 underlines a strong correlation between sleep and mental health. Between 2014 and 2016, the number of people visiting their GP due to mental health conditions – including depression, stress and anxiety – has steadily increased from 13% to 16%. During the same time period, concern around sleep quality has also risen – with a quarter (25%) of people in the UK now indicating that sleeping better is one of their main health ambitions.
The figures clearly indicate that many acknowledge the positive impact quality sleep can have, not only on their health, but also on their day-to-day life.
Common causes of insomnia
The causes of insomnia can vary depending on the circumstance, and can be governed by both physical and psychological factors. The following, however, are some of the most common causes of insomnia:
Stress and anxiety
Worries relating to areas of our lives such as work, health, finances and relationships can result in our minds being overly active at night, making it difficult to fall asleep.
Insomnia can also develop following stressful life events, and can continue even after the event has passed. This is due to the fact that people may associate going to bed with staying awake, or not being able to sleep, resulting in an anxiety about sleep itself.
The consumption of alcohol, heavy food or stimulants – such as nicotine and caffeine – in the late afternoon or evening can result in a poor night’s sleep.
Watching TV or using smartphones and computers just before bed can also disrupt our sleep cycle.
Sleep routine and environment
Going to bed at irregular times, having naps during the day or not relaxing before going to bed can be contributing factors to insomnia.
Your sleeping environment can also be extremely important. If your room is too hot, cold, noisy or bright, as well as if you’re sleeping on an uncomfortable bed, you may struggle to get good quality sleep.
Effects insomnia can have on day-to-day life
Aside from affecting physical health in a negative way, such as increasing the risk of high blood pressure, heart disease and diabetes, poor quality sleep can also have a detrimental effect on daily life . Poor quality sleep could:
- Stop us from being able to handle stress
- Make being able to concentrate and focus on tasks more difficult
- Make us more irritable
- Reduce our reaction time
- Lower our self esteem
- Lead to short and long-term memory loss
All these factors can stop us from performing at our normal capacity, and can lead to difficulties in areas such as work and relationships. Dr Doug Wright, Medical Director for Aviva UK Health, suggests that “sometimes a few lifestyle changes are all that’s needed to boost your sleep levels, such as establishing a routine, eating dinner earlier in the night or avoiding TV and mobile phone screens before bed.”
However, Dr. Wright emphasises that “if stress, anxiety or other mental health issues are what’s keeping you awake, getting help and support – including seeking advice from your GP – is recommended. Tackling sleepless nights is a crucial step to improving overall health and wellbeing.”
How to sleep better: tips for getting better quality sleep
Sleeping better is amongst the top health ambitions in the UK. In order to help you get better quality sleep, we’ve put together some helpful tips and advice.
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2. Aviva Health Check UK Report (2016)
5. Aviva Health Check UK Report (2016) All percentages and figures shown in this report (unless otherwise cited) come from an online survey conducted by ICM research for Aviva UK Health. The survey was carried out in August 2015.