Sleep habits in the UK: How sleep can improve your lifestyle

Ana Noia
Senior Clinical Physiologist in Neurophysiology and Sleep at Cromwell Hospital
24 March 2017

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This article is more than three years old. It reflects the best available evidence at the time of publication.

What are the effects of a bad night’s sleep?

After a bad night’s sleep, you may get dark circles under your eyes, paler skin or red eyes. Not getting enough sleep can also impact your overall health and mental wellbeing, so it’s important we give our bodies the chance to rest. Lack of sleep can not only affect the way we look and feel, but also put us at risk of injury or accidents because it can slow down how quickly we react.

Beyond physical fatigue, tiredness and low energy levels, sleep deprivation can lead to serious medical conditions. These include obesity, high blood pressure, cardiovascular problems and diabetes.

A station clock

How the clock change can affect our sleep patterns

On 26 March, it’s time to put our clocks forward by one hour, marking the beginning of Daylight Saving Time. This can lead our internal body clock to fall out of sync, and make it difficult to fall asleep in the evening. The more light exposure means that when our body should be winding down from the day in preparation for sleep, it’s not. You might also find that you wake up earlier and find it difficult to stay asleep in the early hours. As a result, many of us are left sleep deprived. This time change can also influence your mood and disrupt your overall sleep pattern.

A woman eating breakfast 

How lack of sleep can affect our diet

Lack of sleep is often associated with an unhealthy lifestyle. Not getting the right amount can lead to weight gain and obesity. It impacts your energy levels and can lead to an increased appetite. It has also been shown to increase snacking during the day and close to bed time.

Using diet and exercise to improve our sleep health

Exercise can help with the quality of sleep and is known to help you drop off more quickly. It can also increase the total time you can sleep for and generally benefit your sleep pattern. This happens because exercise helps us to feel more tired in the evening. But if you exercise too late in the day it can have the opposite effect and make you feel more alert and awake.

Foods that contain a lot of tryptophan, which is an amino acid, are also thought to help with sleep. These are found in protein-rich foods like turkey, chicken and tofu. The effects can really be seen when eaten together with a carbohydrate such as white rice. So foods such as steak and chicken, combined with nuts and rice, can help you achieve a good night’s sleep.

An older lady looking out her window 

How sleep deprivation can affect our mental wellbeing

Sleep problems are particularly common in people who suffer from anxiety, depression, bipolar disorder and ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder). They’re also more likely to affect people with psychiatric disorders. Sometimes treating a sleep problem can ease the symptoms of mental health illness.

People who are sleep deprived often feel like they have a ‘foggy brain’ and find it difficult to concentrate on a task.

Importantly, sleep and mood are inter-related. Poor sleep often leads to low mood and can cause feelings of anger and irritability, and people may find it harder to cope with stressful situations.

How can we use sleep to improve our mental wellbeing?

The key to getting a good night’s sleep is to only go to bed when you feel sleepy, not before. This is because lying in bed awake can cause tension and negative thoughts about not falling asleep, which can make you feel stressed.

How can you keep yourself motivated when you’re feeling tired?

Having a balanced diet, exercising regularly, getting plenty of sleep and avoiding drinking too much alcohol are all ways you can help lead a healthy lifestyle. But it isn’t easy, especially if you’re feeling tired and grumpy. Suffering from a bad night’s sleep can lead you feeling unmotivated and unproductive, making it harder to find time for exercise.

If you feel more productive in the morning, maybe you should try working out then. Or if you’re the other way around, you could try to work out early evening so you have enough time to wind down afterwards. Sleep helps with muscle growth and recovery after exercise, so without enough sleep your body may take longer to recover.

What are your five top tips to limit the effects of the clock change?

  • Avoid drinking coffee, tea, hot chocolate and energy drinks. These can stop you from falling asleep as these make us feel more alert and energetic.
  • Maintain your normal sleep schedule. You should try to stick to a strict bedtime and get up at the same time every day.
  • Make time to exercise. A moderate amount of exercise can help. A 30-minute walk, for example, can help you sleep better and faster.
  • Eat something light. In the evening, you should eat something that doesn’t have a lot of fat or spice, as these can cause indigestion. You should also watch how much liquid you have before bed, as drinking too much can make us wake up to go to the toilet.
  • Power nap for 20 minutes at a time. This can help cancel out the effects of losing an hour of sleep. But don’t nap too close to bedtime.

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Ana Noia
Ana Noia
Senior Clinical Physiologist in Neurophysiology and Sleep at Cromwell Hospital

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