Why is sleep so important?
We all need sleep to function – it helps to elevate our mood levels and maintain concentration, as well as supporting the immune system.
Although everyone's sleep needs are different, current recommendations suggest that most of us should be getting between seven and nine hours of shut-eye per night. This can be difficult to fit into our busy modern lifestyle, but here are some tips that may help.
Help yourself get a good night's sleep
- Turn off electronic devices a couple of hours before you want to sleep
- Limit your caffeine, sugar and alcohol intake, especially in the evenings. Caffeine can affect the quality of your sleep hours after you drink it, especially if you're sensitive to the effects
- Exercise regularly – to promote good sleep, it's best to fit this in fairly early in the day
- Ensure the temperature, noise levels and amount of light in your bedroom are set up to encourage good sleep. Consider investing in ear plugs or an eye-mask if necessary
- Manage your everyday stress, whether it's through mindfulness, meditation, or simply taking some time for yourself. If you're having difficulty coping day to day, see your Doctor
If you regularly struggle to fall asleep, or to sleep for long enough, you could be suffering from insomnia. This can make you feel very tired during the day, which may affect your mood, as well as making it difficult to carry out normal day-to-day tasks.
Your pharmacist may be able to recommend short-term treatments to help with insomnia.
Always consult your doctor or pharmacist before taking any new tablets, especially if you take other prescription or over-the-counter medicines. Also be aware that these products can have side-effects such as daytime sleepiness or excessive drowsiness, and they should only be used for a few days. If self-help techniques haven’t helped, insomnia is affecting your daily life, or it persists, you should visit your Doctor for advice.
Snoring is a very common problem which affects not just the snorer, but anyone who has to sleep in the same room. To reduce snoring, it's advisable to maintain a healthy weight and keep alcohol consumption to a minimum – changing your sleeping position may help too. Various products, including nasal strips, are available in pharmacies.
When to seek advice
It's worth seeing your Doctor if you wake frequently throughout the night with a dry mouth or experience headaches in the morning, as this could be a sign of sleep apnoea. This is a condition in which someone's breathing pauses many times while they are sleeping. Other symptoms include snoring and short periods of interrupted breathing while you sleep – you're likely to be unaware of this but your partner may notice. As well as causing very disturbed sleep, if left untreated, sleep apnoea can be dangerous as it can lead to low oxygen levels in the brain.
Our general mental and physical wellbeing often affects our sleep, so if you feel unwell, or are having difficulties with mood swings or anxiety, it may be that an underlying health issue is to blame. If this can be identified and treated, sleep may well improve on its own.
If you're waking up regularly at night feeling short of breath, or (if you're male) waking up more than one to two times per night to urinate, see your Doctor as these can be symptoms of underlying conditions which need to be treated.
- Make small changes to your daily routine to promote good sleep
- Ask you pharmacist for advice about sleep aids or help with snoring
- Seek advice from your Doctor if you have persistent problems with sleep, mood or stress