After a yearlong slumber, National Bed Month (March 2018) has forced itself out from underneath the duvet to brave the cold and snow! Its purpose – to raise awareness of the many factors that influence how well we sleep.
Sleep is very important for both our physical and mental health and wellbeing. Born in Bradford has shown that children who sleep less have more body fat and a larger waist. NHS Choices list obesity, heart disease, diabetes, anxiety and depression as some of the possible consequences of having a bad night’s sleep on a regular basis. It’s also known that lack of sleep can affect children’s concentration and impair school performance. Nonetheless, we don’t sleep as much as we used to, more people are failing to meet sleep targets, and adults and children commonly feel tired and worn out.
How much we sleep has declined most rapidly in the last 20-30 years. This could be for many reasons, but interestingly over the same period of time, television (TV) screens have become mainstream within the bedroom and portable devices such as mobile phones, tablets and laptops are now frequently taken to bed in preference to a traditional book. We know that almost 25% of Born in Bradford children already had a TV in their bedroom by the time they were 3 years old! These children had a tendency to sleep less, and we are now investigating if they were more likely to be overweight. Watch this space for updates…but advisably not from a screen in your bedroom! Aside from bad habits like checking emails, social media notifications and text messages late into (or even throughout) the night, many people stay awake later to watch TV. The particular wavelength of light emitting from electronic screens can also affect our hormones to make us feel wider awake for longer.
So, what to do besides ‘count sheep’ if you have problems nodding off, wake up regularly through the night, or are prone to tossing and turning until sunrise? The Sleep Council offers plenty of advice if you have problems. This includes removing electronic screens from bedrooms, ensuring that environments encourage a good night’s sleep (eg. have a good mattress in a dark peaceful bedroom), and have a regular bedtime routine and sleep pattern. Furthermore, make lifestyle changes that promote more and better quality sleep. This could include altering diets to include less caffeine and ‘junk’ food and being more physically active throughout the day.
Keeping a sleep diary could help to identify which personal changes you could make to aid sleep, and could further be used to monitor whether or not changes appear to improve sleeping habits. We have previously asked some Born in Bradford parents to complete sleep diaries for their children. The diaries told us that many children (particularly from South Asian backgrounds) went to bed later, napped more during the day and slept less overnight than recommended. This is valuable information, particularly since these sleeping patterns are believed to increase obesity risk.
My advice would be not to repeatedly hit the snooze button…but to use this free Better Sleep plan and create the perfect sleep environment for yourself and your family now. Doing so sooner rather than later may help adults to be healthier and happier, quicker, and could help to promote good life-long sleep behaviours in young children.