Protect your health and wellbeing with a good night’s sleep

Sleep is essential for our health and wellbeing, yet millions of us struggle to get enough of it. Nuffield Health found that 55% of people aren't getting enough sleep. Louise Wright, Physiology National Lead, explains how the effects of sleep deprivation could be more significant than simply having bags under your eyes, and provides tips on how to improve your sleeping environment and habits.

The past few years have been immensely challenging. In times of uncertainty, many people will find sleeping well to be a challenge. Our quality of sleep is affected by our emotional health, our nutrition, our physical health and fitness, and our general wellbeing.

Sleep deprivation has been linked to potentially serious changes to emotion, mood states, and their regulation. What’s more, it could dramatically slow your response time and ability to make rational decisions, placing you and others in harm’s way. You might feel the most immediate effects of poor sleep in the general demise of your ability to function effectively throughout the day. You might also find it harder to concentrate, feel cranky, over-emotional or stressed.

Here are some top tips to help you get a good night's sleep.

Sleep environment

1. Turn off all lights 

Light is one of the biggest factors to affect our sleeping pattern. That’s because our eyes have receptors which sense the light and communicate with the brain to tell us whether it’s day (awake) or night (sleep) time.  

The blue light emitted from screens such as our phones or laptops is particularly harmful to sleep, because it is emitted at a different wavelength than natural light and suppresses the production of melatonin, a hormone that makes you sleepy, more than any other wavelength of light. So, exposure to blue light should be limited before sleep. 

2. Control your room temperature 

Bedroom temperature changes generally have a slower and more progressive impact on the body, so the impact this has on sleep is harder to quantify but can still be a significant factor in poor sleep quality. 

A cool room helps to reduce the body temperature prior to sleep, which helps initiate the sleep process. So, make sure your room is kept fairly cool – around 19˚C. 

3. Limit the noise 

Excessive noise is a cause of sleep disorders and is potentially the most important factor contributing to a poor bedroom environment. However, noise can work to either disturb or soothe your sleep. 

Alarms going off outside, or the hum from your heating, for example, can be disruptive due to the change in noise consistency (i.e. from soft to loud) and can become irritating, while ‘true’ white noise and some types of music have been found to aid sleep by blocking out distracting sounds and reducing the level of stimulus that sudden sounds have on the brain in the night. Not all current literature is in agreement that white noise is beneficial to improving sleep quality however, so it should only be considered on an individual basis. 

Sleep habits

1. Follow a schedule all week 

"Sleeping in" on weekends makes it harder to wake up early on Monday morning because it re-sets your sleep cycles for a later awakening. Try instead going to bed at a set time each night and setting your alarm for the same time each morning. This has the added bonus of giving you extra time to be productive at the weekend.  

2. Exercise daily 

Regular exercise is likely to improve sleep quality. Try to exercise for 20 to 30 minutes every day, making movement a part of your daily routine, to help the body enter the physically restorative phase of sleep more easily. When you exercise is equally as important because exercise can cause a spike in adrenaline, which keeps your body in an alert state so it can be recommended to avoid high intensity exercise in the hours leading up to your bedtime.  

3. Avoid caffeine, nicotine, and alcohol 

These are all stimulants which can increase your blood pressure and heartrate, keeping you awake. Caffeine in particular can block the sleep promoting chemical adenosine, so potentially taking the action to cut out caffeine could, in the long run, remove the desire for that mid-afternoon pick-me-up cappuccino.   

4. Unwind before bed 

Taking a warm bath, reading, or meditation before you go to bed can make it easier to fall sleep. A warm bath just before bed can help you get to sleep. It's not the rise in body temperature, but the subsequent cooling down that tricks the body into thinking you have gone from daytime into night-time. This promotes a stronger sleep urge. 

If you'd like to know more about how to get a better night’s sleep, take a look at our free sleep hub with helpful hints, tips and a sleep diary to help you see where you might be going wrong. 

*Nuffield Health’s Healthier Nation Index survey 

Last updated Wednesday 26 October 2022

First published on Friday 18 March 2022