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Sleep Well for Mental, Emotional and Physical Health

Updated on November 13, 2018
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Jo has been an ITU nurse at the London North West NHS Trust for 14 years. She obtained her RN at University College London Hospital.

Sleeping well, allows the brain to clean away the build up of waste toxins that accumulates in the nervous system when we are awake


Why Sleeping Well is Important for Mental, Emotional and Physical Health

The question of why we need sleep has been mystifying scientists for eons, but recent research into what happens to the brain during sleep may have provided some answers.

We know that sleeping well is important, we cannot function efficiently without sleep. However, under normal circumstances, we can pretty well decide where and when we choose to sleep.

Most of us are failing to make quality sleep a priority; we're not taking appropriate action to improve our sleep. Consequently, on average, the amount of sleep we get, have declined over time as our increasingly busy lives takes up much of our sleep time.

According to the Sleep Council, the average Briton gets six and a half hours sleep per night; this falls below the required hours of restful rejuvenating sleep we need to help maintain optimal health.

Research shows that lack of sleep can result in some negative consequences that can impact on physical, emotional and mental well-being.

More than 30% of the population suffers from some form of sleep disorder. Lack of sleep can place us at a greater risk for health problems such as anxiety, depression, bipolar disorder, immune deficiency and heart diseases.

A study shows that when participants cut back from 7.5 to 6.5 hours sleep per night, genes associated with processes such as inflammation, immune and stress response becomes more active. The researchers also found an increase in activity of genes related to diabetes and risk of cancer. The reverse occurred when participants took one added hour of sleep per night.


How Much Sleep Do We Need?

According to the experts, adults require an average of 7-9 hours sleep per night. A child of 1 year should be getting around 13 hours of sleep, teenagers, just over 9 hours and children of school age, 11 hours.

However, some of the most productive, and fertile minds in history thrived on minimum sleep. Margaret Thatcher famously managed on 4 hours a night, as did Florence Nightingale. According to Thomas Edison, the inventor who gave us the light bulb, allowing us to extend our waking hours, "sleep is a waste of time." So do we need sleep?

Many have pondered this question, and the scientists have several theories as to why we spend one-third of our lives sleeping. We seem to need sleep as much as we need to eat and drink.

When our bodies feel tired, we rest; when we wake we feel better. When we're hungry and thirsty, we eat and drink, replenishing vital nutrients that the body requires, but is there more to why we sleep? The experts say yes.

The human body is programmed for a longish period of sleep. Sleep helps the body and particularly the brain, to recuperate and to restore, strengthen and consolidate its functions. Research have shown that after sleep, we retain information and perform better on memory tasks. The brain uses sleep to evaluate memory, it encodes, stores and retains what is most relevant. The body requires sufficient sleep to grow muscles, synthesise hormones and repair tissue.

Sleep, A Physical and Chemical Need

According to a study in the Journal Science, cerebral spinal fluid is pumped around the brains of sleeping mice, flushing out waste products like a biological dishwasher.

It appears that while we sleep, our brains are kept pretty busy cleaning up. A study at the University of Rochester found that the brain cells in mice shrank while they slept. Natural sleep was found to be associated with a massive 60% increase in the interstitial space (the space between the cells), allowing the cerebral spinal fluid in the animal's brain to flow ten times faster than when they were awake.

For this study, traces of amyloid beta proteins that are implicated in Alzheimer's disease were injected into the mice. The test was designed to show how efficiently the rodent's brain would clear away the neurotoxic waste products from the central nervous system during sleep. The Scientists found that the removal of protein residues was faster from the brains of sleeping mice than from those awake.

The cleaning process is thought to be more active during sleep because the energy required to pump fluid around the brain when awake, would be far too high.

The research concluded that the cerebral spinal fluid flushes the waste product from the brain, and into what is referred to as the glymphatic system where the waste is carried down through the body and into the liver to be broken down. However, more research is needed to ascertain the real value and importance of this process, and whether the same occurs in the human brain.

Research suggests that the average Briton isn't getting sufficient sleep

How about you, Are you getting enough sleep?

See results

Shift work sleep disorder

Working night shifts causes the body to work against its circadian rhythm. Our circadian rhythm is our internal or body clock; it tells us when it is time to sleep, and when to wake. When the sun disappears over the horizon, and the land is dark, it is time to sleep, when the sun rises once again, it's time to wake.

That's all well and good, but there are times when the reverse is, in fact, the case. Some people who work shifts or night duty adapt quickly to this; they manage to get sufficient restful sleep and can adjust well to sleeping during the day. However, a significant number of night workers find it difficult to get adequate sleep in the day time and suffers from a condition known as shift work sleep disorder (SWSD).

SWSD is circadian rhythm sleep disorder that commonly affects people who are working nights or rotating shifts. When I became a nurse, I knowingly said goodbye to regular sleeping patterns. The nature of the job we do demands that we work unsocial hours, a large part of which, includes night shift. For me, the problem is not working night shifts as such, but the constant rotating between the days and nights can be more of a challenge. Many of my colleagues have young children at home, for them, working nights means that what little sleep they do get are often interrupted.

Research shows that working night shifts messes with our natural rhythm, (circadian rhythm) and can place us at a higher risk for certain illnesses.

Sleep deprivation can affect the way we think, and this can have a huge impact on our general health. Lack of sleep can have an effect on how an individual responds to rapidly changing situations and the ability to make a rational judgement in real life situations. Sleep deprivation is said to be a contributing factor in disasters such as Chernobyl, Exxon Valdez, the Challenger shuttle explosion and Three Mile Island.

The Great British Sleep Survey found, that when compared to people who get adequate sleep, those with sleep deprivation or insomnia are:

  • Four times as likely to have relationship problems.

  • Three times as likely to experience depression or low mood.

  • Three times as likely to lack concentration during the day.

  • Three times as likely to struggle with work or to cope with other aspects of their lives.

  • More than twice as likely to suffer from a deficiency of energy.

Some features of the human circadian (24 hour) biological clock



Melatonin is a hormone made by the small pineal gland in the brain. It helps to control sleep and wake cycle. It also occurs in small quantities, in meat, grains, fruits and vegs. Melatonin is also produced synthetically as a sleep supplement. The body clock controls the amount of melatonin produced, a process that is sensitive to light. Typically, levels of melatonin start to rise in the early afternoon to late evening, and remains high for most of the night, then falls in the early hours of t

Tips on Treating Insomnia

Tips For Better Sleep

Remove or cover up all blue lights in bedroom
Blue glow from cell phones, TV's, computers, digital clocks may interfere with sleep
Less interference for more restful sleep.
Avoid Napping, if you must, keep it short, around 20 mins. or less and early in the day.
Sleeping within 8 hours of bedtime can result in less sleep at night.
A good night's rest, of 7.5 to 8 hours is much more likely if daytime napping is avoided
Use a pillow to improve alignment
Even mild low back pain can disrupt sleep, a pillow placed between the knees can help alignment of the hips to remove stress on the back.
Eases pain for a more comfortable night's rest
Sleep with neck in neutral position
The wrong size pillow can result in stiff neck.
Keeps neck neutral, for a more comfortable sleep.
Seal mattresses and pillows using air-tight dust proof covers
Prevent fragmented sleep due to allergies from mold and dust mites droppings and other allergy triggers.
Reduce sneezing, itching due to allergens
Bed should only be used for sleep and sex
According to the experts, sleep and sex should be the only past-times taking place tn the bedroom. No talking on the phone, working on computers or watching TV.
The bedroom should only be associated with rest and relaxation
Set your body clock
Go to sleep and wake up around the same time each day, including weekends. Get out into bright light as soon as possible for 5 to 30 mins. after waking. Light is a powerful regulator of the biological clock.
Set body and brain on a healthy sleep-wake cycle.
Avoid stimulants such as caffeine in food and drinks after mid-day.
Caffeine can have a marked effect on sleep, it can cause shorter total sleep time, increases light sleep as well as shortening of deep sleep time. It can also cause more frequent awakenings.
Prevent interference with deeper stages of sleep.
Exercise 3 to 4 hours before bed time.
While exercises such as yoga and tai chi are OK prior to sleep, vigorous work out too close to bed time is not recommended.
Although regular exercise are shown to improve sleep, vigorous exercise too close to bed time can result in burst of energy that can prevent quality sleep.
Avoid heavy meals late in the day.
Large meals late in the day can strain the digestive system, making sleep difficult.
A light snack before bedtime may aid sleep.
Alcohol may not be a good idea. Try camomile tea or a warm milky drink in the evening.
The tranquilizing effects of alcohol may induce sleep, but when the effects wears off, it can result in less restful sleep.
Alcohol have both trenquilizing and stimulating effect.
Avoid frequent trips to the bathroom at night, if you must go, use a night light or subdued lighting.
Avoid drinking fluids within 2 hours of bed time.
Trips to the bathroom will interrupt sleep, once interrupted, it can be difficult to get back to sleep.
Melatonin Supplements
When taken for short period of time, melatonin has shown to be more effective than a placebo in reducing the time it takes to fall asleep.
Research suggests, melatonin supplements may help with disrupted circadian rhythm.

See video for breathing exercises to use before bed time to help you sleep wall.

Sleep Well Get The Right Mattress

Getting a good night's sleep begins with a good mattress, one that supports the body in a neutral position. Spine should have a good curvature, buttocks, heels, head and shoulders should be well supported in alignment. Too firm, the main pressure points will push the body out of alignment, too soft and the pressure points will not be properly supported. A mattress that is too hard or too soft can cause aches, resulting in poor sleep. The best mattress is one where there's no pressure.

Hypnotic drugs should only be taken for short period and as per labelling


Sleeping Drugs (Hypnotics)

There are drugs designed to induce sleep, but like most medications, there are also inherent adverse side effects. A study published in the British Medical Journal(BMJ) found that people taking sleeping pills twice a month were four times more likely to die in the next two and a half years than individuals who do not take sleeping pills.

An individual who takes high doses of temazepam (a benzodiazepine), were found to be six times more likely to die. There were 2.8 million prescriptions for temazepam dispensed in England in 2010. The study also showed, that taking more than 132 pills a year has a 35% increase in cancer. This study, while published in the BMJ was performed by U.S scientists and based on mortality rates in Pennsylvania.

The 2010 study suggests that hypnotics may have been associated with 320,000 to 507,000 excess deaths in the United States alone. Hypnotic drugs are said to be as risky as smoking cigarettes and include drugs like Temazepam, also under the brand name Restoril and Zolpidem also sold under the brand name Ambien. According to the manufacturers of drugs like Ambien, the medication is safe when taken as prescribed and according to its labelling.

Risk of Chronic Hypnotic Use

According to research study, the use of hypnotics is associated with increased risk of death. There is no persuasive evidence that long-term use of hypnotics produces any benefits. Evidence is that the risk of chronic hypnotic use outweigh the benefits.

Survival curves for patients prescribed no hypnotics compared with survival curves for patient prescribed hypnotics, divided into four age groups.


Melatonin, shown to be a potent therepeutic agent for treatment of circadian rhythm sleep disorders and some type of insomnia

Epworth Sleepiness Scale can be used to assess daytime sleepiness

References Drives Metabolite from Adult Brain





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