Getting a good night’s sleep is essential for both our physical and mental health.

We still don’t know exactly why we sleep but what we do know is that sleeping well is essential for a number of reasons:

  • the body goes through some essential maintenance while we sleep including the repair and growth of tissues, muscles, bones and blood vessels.
  • poor sleep can affect the immune system and increase the risk of diabetes, heart disease and high blood pressure
  • lack of sleep can affect mental processes such as problem-solving, judgement and learning as well as the ability to focus and complete tasks
  • during sleep the brain processes the day’s thoughts and experiences, forms memories and stores information
  • sleep can aid recovery and healing and is important in regulating the hormones which control appetite and hunger
  • poor sleep can affect your mood and increase stress which can affect relationships and may sometimes lead to problems like depression and anxiety

While we all know how a poor night’s sleep can leave us feeling tired, dizzy and sluggish – a chronic lack of sleep can have a range of possible effects, such as:

  • poor concentration and difficulty focusing
  • low energy and problems staying alert
  • reduced creativity and ability to make decisions and solve problems
  • difficulty completing tasks and increased mistakes
  • low mood – feeling more anxious, irritable and less able to cope with stress
  • poor memory and difficulty recalling information
  • problems taking in and learning new information and processes
  • eating more sugary foods and weight gain
  • more infections and colds
  • reduced reaction times – affecting ability to drive safely and increasing the risk of accidents

How many hours of sleep do we need?

While most adults need an average of 7 to 9 hours of sleep – some people need more and some people need less. What’s important is to find out how much sleep you need to feel refreshed and alert. If you have had enough sleep you should awake naturally from sleep feeling refreshed.

Age can play a part in how much sleep someone needs. As a general rule we need less sleep as we grow older. People over 65 may need less than seven hours and sleep much more lightly, whereas a teenager may need more – up to 10 or 11 hours. Lifestyle can also be a factor in how much sleep you need – people with young children or people with very active or physical jobs may need to go to bed earlier and get more sleep.

What matters as much as the quantity of sleep is the quality. Relying on short naps or only getting broken sleep can mean that you are not achieving deep sleep (Non-REM stage three). Deep sleep is the time when the body repairs itself and stores energy for the following day. To wake up feeling refreshed and energised it’s essential to get enough deep sleep.