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Sleep well

We spend approximately a third of our lives asleep. Sleep is an essential and involuntary process, without which we cannot function effectively.

It is as important to our bodies as eating, drinking and breathing, and is vital for maintaining good mental and physical health. Sleeping helps to repair and restore our brains, not just our bodies.

During sleep we can process information, consolidate memories, and undergo a number of maintenance processes that help us to function during the daytime. Sleep is crucial to the health of individuals within the UK and to the public health of the UK population. We all need to make sure we get the right amount of sleep, and enough good quality sleep. There is no set amount of sleep that is appropriate for everyone; some people need more sleep than others. Our ability to sleep is controlled by how sleepy we feel and our sleep pattern. How sleepy we feel relates to our drive to sleep. The sleep pattern relates to the regularity and timing of our sleep habits; if we have got into a pattern of sleeping at set times then we will be able to establish a better routine, and will find it easier to sleep at that time every day.

Sleep is a more complex process than many people realise, much of it is still a mystery to scientists. During sleep, the body goes through a variety of processes and sleep stages. Good quality sleep is likely to be the result of spending enough time in all of the stages, including enough deep sleep which helps us feel refreshed.

Poor sleep over a sustained period leads to a number of problems which are immediately recognisable, including fatigue, sleepiness, poor concentration, lapses in memory, and irritability. Up to one third of the population may suffer from insomnia (lack of sleep 
or poor quality sleep). This can affect mood, energy and concentration levels, our relationships, and our ability to stay awake and function during the day.

Sleep and health are strongly related, poor sleep can increase the risk of having poor health, and poor health can make it harder to sleep. Common mental health problems like anxiety and depression can often underpin sleep problems. Where this is the case, a combination approach to treating the mental health problem and sleep problem in tandem is often the most effective.

It is essential for us to better understand the sleep process in order to ensure that we get a regular amount of good quality sleep. Sleepio, co-founded by Professor Colin Espie, Director of the University of Glasgow Sleep Centre, is a new organisation that is dedicated to raising awareness of the importance of sleep. Sleepio collected data from a large-scale, national survey on sleep habits; some of these revealing new data appear throughout this report. We can all benefit from improving the quality of our sleep. For many of us, it may simply be a case of making small lifestyle or attitude adjustments in order to help us sleep better. For those with insomnia it is usually necessary to seek more specialist treatment. Sleep medication is commonly used, but may have negative side effects and is not recommended in the long-term.

Psychological approaches are useful for people with long-term insomnia because they can encourage us to establish good sleep patterns, and to develop a healthy, positive mental outlook about sleep, as well as dealing with worrying thoughts towards sleeping.

Sleep matters - pocket guide (pdf 773.19 KB)

Alice's Story: Overcoming Insomnia

Alice has always had sleep problems since she was little, troubles going to sleep, nightmares and waking up in the middle of the night. It really affected her day to day life. She has now overcome her sleep problems thanks to a range of techniques.

"After a bad night's sleep, I felt tired, found it hard to concentrate and even had problems pronouncing my words properly by the end of the day - all of which proved challenging in my role as a clinician at the time. I had experienced sleep problems from a young age, having nightmares and finding it hard to get to sleep and stay asleep.

It was only when researching ways to improve the sleep of my clients that I came across a number of practises that helped me to drastically improve my own quality of sleep. I keep a positive reflections and humour diary by my bed to address any negative thoughts or worries that might prevent me from getting to sleep - it helps me keep my focus on positive and happy thoughts - and I have also benefitted from listening to a relaxation CD, improving the environment of my bedroom, and practising laughter therapy techniques if I can't drop off or if I wake up too early."