Ensuring we get enough, good quality sleep is vital for our overall health and wellbeing, and so it is for good reason that sleep is one of the six pillars of Lifestyle Medicine.
Sleep is essential for restoring our energy levels and giving our bodies a much-needed rest. We are becoming increasingly aware of its wider health benefits – as well as the harmful effects of poor sleep and sleep deprivation.
As part of our overall mission to reframe healthcare, and to address the chronic disease burden, BSLM advocates for greater attention to the issue of sleep in UK health practice and policy.
As Lifestyle Medicine doctors, professionals and practitioners, it’s important that we focus on supporting people to sleep well, as part of overall efforts to improve health and wellbeing. In summary: good sleep health plays a vital part in the Lifestyle Medicine approach to the prevention, treatment, management and reversal of chronic health conditions; one of the key factors to healthy longevity is good sleep.
Why Sleep Matters
For adults, getting between seven – nine hours of good quality sleep can help to build up our long-term disease immunity. The maintenance of healthy immune cells relies on us getting enough sleep if we are to effectively fight infections and even some cancer cells. Sleep deprivation (less than five hours a night) can damage our body’s immune function, putting us at greater risk of more serious or prolonged infections and increasing the risk of other chronic illnesses including some cancers.
The body’s microbiome, the trillions of microorganisms which perform a variety of important tasks for us, also needs sleep to perform its functions effectively. Again, seven – nine hours is needed – and if we sleep for less than five hours, this can have a damaging impact on the diversity of helpful organisms in our microbiome.
We can also reduce the risk factors which can cause issues such as obesity and diabetes through attention to good quality sleep. The effective functioning of our body’s metabolism, which balances our insulin function as well as our glucose intake, is in part dependent on sleep. Increased appetite and calorie intake is also associated with sleep deprivation.
Cognitive function, memory and mental health are all dependent on good quality sleep.
Studies have demonstrated that when we sleep our brains are busy cementing new learning and processing new information. Conversely, lack of sleep reduces concentration and impairs our memory, and there is also evidence it can contribute to cognitive decline.
In terms of stress and mental health, good quality sleep is essential. We know that high cortisol levels are associated with anxiety and stress – and that getting the right amount of sleep can help to lower these.
Sleep can also reduce the risk of anxiety, depression, PTSD and the long-term effects of grief. Sleep does this by helping us to process difficult emotions and experiences, giving us a better chance of staying resilient, positive and happy.
Sleep deprivation is also associated with the risk of high blood pressure and ischaemic heart disease, through the build-up of amyloid deposits which causes clogging of the arteries. Effective vascular circulation in the brain is also dependent on good sleep, and this plays an important part in reducing the risk of vascular dementia and strokes.
How does BSLM support people to sleep better?
BSLM supports people to use Lifestyle Medicine to achieve good quality sleep and avoid behaviours which can impair sleep quality.
We promote the benefits of getting between seven – nine hours of sleep every night
We advocate for good sleep hygiene – following a regular sleep pattern, keeping to the same sleep and wake times
We provide advice and information on the lifestyle factors which can cause sleep deprivation
Top tips for good sleep
Maintain the same wake and sleep time each day
Ensure your bedroom is dark, cool and quiet
Avoid caffeine after 2pm and limit alcohol consumption
Try to spend some time each day outside in natural light to ensure your body gets a good dose of the melatonin it needs to sleep well. This also helps your hypothalamus to understand the difference between light and dark, triggering your natural body clock and helping you sleep better.
Keep active: ensuring you are physically active can help you to enjoy better sleep