Medically Review by Dr Dearbhaile Collins
Sleep - it’s something we all need to function. We live in a time that places an emphasis on eating healthily and taking regular exercise, but none of that is made worthwhile without a good night’s sleep. According to the NHS, 1 in 3 of us suffer with poor sleep, and often, factors of a modern lifestyle are to blame - digital devices, stress, and bringing work home with us.
Dr Dearbhaile Collins from Cork University Hospital explains that whilst some people have higher sleep requirements than others, most adults need between 7 and 8 hours of sleep per night.
With so many factors that can affect our ability to sleep well, how can we actually get a good night’s sleep?
Why is Sleep So Important?
We’ve all experienced the short-term effects of a poor night’s sleep - feeling irritable, not being able to concentrate, that ‘heavy’ feeling on your eyes - but there’s actually a lot more to it, not just for your emotional and mental wellbeing, but also on your physical health too.
- Sleep is important for a number of brain functions, especially when it comes to cognition and concentration. Sleep deprivation has been shown to negatively affect these processes, with one study finding that the effects on some brain functions were similar to alcohol intoxication. On the other hand, a good night’s sleep has been shown to improve certain functions, such as memory and problem solving skills.
- Sleep also can affect your risk of developing certain diseases, such as type 2 diabetes and heart disease. Studies have shown that poor quality and quantity of sleep can increase the risk of type 2 diabetes, and that those who sleep less than 7-8 hours a night are at a greater risk of heart disease or stroke.
- Similarly, sleep also has an impact on immune function. If you regularly seem to catch every cold that does the rounds, it could be a lack of sleep that’s to blame. One study even found that a partial lack of sleep can impair immune system function - definitely something to bear in mind given the events of this year!
- Considering that even one bad night’s sleep can impact our mood, it’s not surprising that poor sleep may be linked to certain mental health conditions such as anxiety and depression. Shockingly, it's estimated that 90% of depression sufferers complain about the quality of their sleep!
- Poor sleep has also been linked to weight gain, with short sleep being considered as one of the highest risk factors when it comes to obesity.While there are a number of different factors as to why this could be, one potential explain is that sleep deprivation alters the daily fluctuation of the hormones that regulate appetite - both those that stimulate and suppress it. In short, if you’re trying to lose a few pounds, it’s worth making sure you get plenty of sleep.
How Can We Get a Better Night’s Sleep?
So, we know the importance of a good night’s sleep on our overall health and wellbeing, but how exactly can we improve our chances of getting it? Given that there are so many factors that can affect the quality and the quantity of our sleep, there’s no surprise that there’s plenty of things we can do to improve it. One way in particular, is by reducing the amount of blue light you’re exposed to in the evenings.
What’s the Deal with Blue Light?
An internal function known as our circadian rhythm controls our sleeping and waking cycle. To adjust itself, our circadian rhythm relies on signals from the environment, specifically, light and darkness. Natural light or bright white lighting helps to regulate our circadian rhythms - both sunlight and white lights contain a significant amount of blue light, which helps us to stay alert. Blue light inhibits the production of a hormone called melatonin, also known as the sleep hormone. Secreted by the pineal gland in the brain, melatonin lets our bodies know that it’s time to relax and go to sleep, which is why a little blue light (especially from the sun) can be beneficial during the day.
Of course, during the evenings, melatonin is what we need to help us fall asleep. Unfortunately, blue light is also emitted in high amounts from digital devices such as laptops and smartphones. So, if you spend your evenings scrolling through social media or curled up in bed watching Netflix on your laptop, this could indeed be impacting on your sleep. Blue light during the evenings has the opposite effect to what it does during the day, tricking your brain into thinking it’s daytime.
How Can I Reduce My Exposure to Blue Light?
Thankfully, there are a number of ways in which you can reduce your blue light exposure to help you get a better night’s sleep. Blue light blocking glasses in particular are a popular way to reduce your blue light exposure, with one study even finding that when wearing them in a lit room or using electronic devices, people produced the same amount of melatonin as if it were dark. Blue light blocking glasses also have additional benefits when it comes to eye strain and relieving headaches too, helping your eyes to feel fresher after long days in front of a computer. We have a huge variety of stylish frames with high performance lenses to bring you comfortable vision all day long, so why not take a look at our selection of blue light blocking glasses?
Additionally, other ways you can help to reduce your blue light exposure can be to stop using digital devices (including the TV!) and turning off bright lights up to 2 hours before bedtime. If you really can’t bear to tear yourself away from your gadgets before bedtime, a pair of blue light blocking glasses could be just the thing for you!
Top Tips for a Good Night’s Sleep
While reducing your blue light exposure in the evenings is a great way for you to be on your way towards a good night’s sleep, there’s plenty of other tips you can try:
- Ensure plenty of natural light during the day
- Reduce your caffeine intake
- Get up and go to sleep at the same time each day
- Optimise your sleep environment - ensure you have a comfy mattress and pillows, and that your room is free from excessive noise or distractions.
- Do something to relax before bed - activities such as yoga or meditation can be great ways to help you unwind before going to bed.
- Keep a notebook by your bed - if you’ve got a lot on your mind or there’s something bothering you, write it down to come back to in the morning. It doesn’t have to make sense or have any structure, just empty your thoughts out to help clear your mind!
We hope we’ve given you plenty of insight into how you can achieve a better night’s sleep. After a tough year all round, as we enter the winter months, this year it’s more important than ever to look after our wellbeing, and one of the best ways we can do so is by ensuring we treat ourselves to a good night’s sleep.
Written by Amy Jackson
Why Lack of Sleep is Bad for Your Health (NHS, 2018): https://www.nhs.uk/live-well/sleep-and-tiredness/why-lack-of-sleep-is-bad-for-your-health/
How to Get to Sleep (NHS, 2019): https://www.nhs.uk/live-well/sleep-and-tiredness/how-to-get-to-sleep/
10 Reasons Why Good Sleep is Important (Healthline, 2020): https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/10-reasons-why-good-sleep-is-important
17 Tips to Sleep Better (Healthline, 2020): https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/17-tips-to-sleep-better
Melatonin & Sleep (Healthline, 2020): https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/melatonin-and-sleep
Moderate Sleep Deprivation Produces Impairments in Cognitive and Motor Performance Equivalent to Legally Prescribed Levels of Alcohol Intoxication (A.M. Williamson & A.M. Feyer, 2000): https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/10984335
Sleep and Rest Facilitate Implicit Memory in a Visual Search Task (S.C. Mednick, T. Makovski, D.J. Cai & Y.V. Jiang, 2009): https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/19379769/
Quantity and Quality of Sleep and Incidence of Type 2 Diabetes: A Systematic Review & Meta Analysis (F.P. Cappuccio, L. D’Elia, P. Strazzullo & M.A. Miller, 2010): https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/19910503/
Cognitive Flexibility Across the Sleep-Wake Cycle: REM Sleep Enhancement of Anagram Problem Solving (M.P. Walker, C. Liston, J.A. Hobson & R. Stickgold, 2002): https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/12421655/
Sleep Duration Predicts Cardiovascular Outcomes: A Systematic Review and Meta Analysis of Prospective Studies (F.P. Cappuccio, D. Cooper, L. D’Elia, P. Strazzullo & M.A. Miller, 2011): https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/21300732/
Partial Night Sleep Deprivation Reduces Natural Killer and Cellular Immune Responses in Humans (M. Irwin, J. McClintick, C. Costlow, M. Fortner, J. White & J.C. Gillin, 2010): https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/8621064/
Sleep and Depression (N. Tsuno, A. Besset & K. Ritchie, 2005): https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/16259539/
Light Induced Melatonin Suppression in Humans with Polychromatic and Monochromatic Light (V. Revell & D.J. Skene, 2007): https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/18075803/
Light Level and Duration of Exposure Determine the Impact of Self-Luminous Tablets on Melatonin Suppression (B. Wood, M.S. Rea, B. Plitnick & M.G. Figueiro, 2013): https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/22850476/