Sleep habits: We all need our beauty sleep...

02 Sleep

As humans, we spend around a third of our lives sleeping. That’s approximately 26 years or about 9,500 days for the average person. As it’s something we spend so much time doing, it’s important to understand how it fits into our overall health and wellness and how to get the most from all those hours of snoozing.

Although there are still plenty of mysteries around sleep, it is recognised as a naturally occurring state and an essential physiological function supporting our physical and mental performance and wellbeing. Good sleep is fundamental to healthy living, supporting regular exercise, healthy nutrition, and mental health.

To reap these benefits, the amount of sleep we need each day varies with age. While babies are the sleep champions, requiring 12-16 hours a day to fuel their growth and development, adults need seven or more hours a night.[22]

And, despite popular misconceptions, even teenagers only need between eight and ten hours every 24 hours. But the length of time you spend in bed is only part of the sleep equation. Sleep medicine scientists recognise that other elements are also key to sleep health. Buysse [23] states there are five dimensions of good sleep: duration, timing, continuity, alertness, and quality.

As each of these dimensions is associated with health outcomes and risks, it makes sense to characterise sleep using these different metrics. Measuring them – and adjusting them – can help you get the most from your sleep.

Risks of poor sleep

For anyone with work or family commitments, it probably comes as no surprise that we’re facing a sleep deprivation crisis. Globally, it is estimated that 63% of us don’t sleep well when we go to bed. [24]

This poor sleep health can affect our physiological, cognitive and psychological functioning, with potentially serious implications for health and wellbeing.

Take sleep duration as an example. Fail to clock up that all-important seven hours every night and it’ll start to disrupt your metabolic, endocrine and neurological functions. These are essential for maintaining health, with disruptions linked to the risk of developing chronic health issues including cardiovascular disease, diabetes, cancer, and obesity.

Consistency is what’s important too, with both too little and too much sleep potentially having an adverse effect on our health. In fact, catching up on your sleep with a regular lie-in could be even more damaging than staying up too late.

Sleep timings are also linked to health risk. Going to bed and waking up at regular times shapes our sleep pattern and improves the quality of our sleep. Remove this regularity and the disruption to your circadian rhythm puts you at higher risk of conditions such as obesity, diabetes, hypertension and depression. It can even increase the risk of musculoskeletal injuries and work- related disabilities.

One study led by Harvard Medical School found that shift work increases the risk of type 2 diabetes by 18% for some night shifts and 44% for usual night shifts. [26] When they looked at the frequency of night shifts, the greatest risk – 36% – was among those who worked more than eight night shifts a month.

  • $94.9 billion the healthcare cost related to sleep disorders in the United States in 2018. [27]

  • 7 hours (per night) the recommended sleep duration for adults

How good sleep benefits health

Good sleep is fundamental to our health, affecting everything from what we eat to our risk of serious long-term health conditions. Its importance, and its relationship with our areas of our health, makes it a key part of any wellness strategy.

Improvements to physical activity

Sleep and physical activity are closely interlinked. Regular physical activity is often associated with improved sleep quality, with doctors recommending exercise as a non-pharmacological intervention to improve sleep.

Similarly, fail to get your seven hours, and it’ll affect your daytime energy levels and your desire to workout. What’s more, a large UK BioBank study [28] found that the mortality risks from having poor sleep were exacerbated by low levels of physical activity.

This connection between the two supports the recommendation that both sleep and physical activity should be targeted concurrently to achieve better health and lifestyle outcomes.

Improvements to mental health

Sleep and mental health are common bedfellows. Sleep disturbances feature almost universally in most mental health conditions. As an example, in patients with depression, up to 90% have issues with sleep. [29] This relationship does mean that improvements in sleep quality can lead to greater improvements in mental health issues, potentially influencing the trajectory and severity of mental disorders such as stress, anxiety, and depression. [30] Promoting the benefits of good sleep habits should be integral to any programme that focuses on mental health and wellbeing.

Improvements to nutrition

A healthy, balanced diet can do wonders for your sleep, with the nutrients promoting a good night’s rest and reducing insomnia symptoms. [31] Poor sleep patterns can also affect our appetite, disrupting our hormones and leading to changes in our brain that regulate food intake. It may seem counterintuitive but an extra hour’s nap could actually benefit your waistline as well as your long-term health.

Action points

These are some key action points to help improve sleeping habits:

  1. Be consistent: Going to bed and rising at around the same time is the best way to get good quality sleep. Being consistent helps to shape your sleep patterns and improve sleep quality – your body and mind will thank you for the regular routine.
  2. Get a pre-sleep routine: Winding down before bedtime prepares your body for sleep. This could include reducing light exposure, limiting the use of electronic devices, reading a book or taking a hot bath. Once your routine is established, your body will recognise it as a cue for sleep. 
  3. Exercise regularly: Its ability to wake you up means strenuous exercise is best avoided close to bedtime but having a regular exercise regime can help to promote better sleep quality. 
  4. Eat to sleep: Avoid heavy meals and the consumption of caffeinated and alcoholic beverages close to bedtime as they can disturb your sleep. Instead eat a healthy and balanced diet during the day. 
  5. Commit to relaxation: Prepare your mind and body for sleep by relaxing before bedtime. It could be a hot bath, meditation or breathing exercises to improve mindfulness and get you ready for bed. Other factors that can help get you in the mood for sleep are setting the right temperature in your bedroom; keeping it tidy and keeping the noise levels low. 
  6. Track it: As so many variables can affect the quality of your sleep, it makes sense to use a sleep tracking device to monitor what happens when you do go to bed. By understanding how many hours of sleep you get and its quality, you can make changes that will help you reap the health benefits associated with achieving the seven hour target. 


  • [22] Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2022, How Much Sleep Do I Need?
  • [23] Buysse, D. J., 2014, Sleep Health: Can We Define It? Does It Matter?
  • [24] Viens, A., 2019, Are you sleeping enough?
  • [25] Yin, J. et al, 2017, Relationship of Sleep Duration With All- Cause Mortality and Cardiovascular Events: A Systematic Review and Dose-Response Meta-Analysis of Prospective Cohort Studies
  • [26] Vetter, C. et al, 2018, Night Shift Work, Genetic Risk, and Type 2 Diabetes in the UK Biobank
  • [27] Huyett, P. et al, 2021, Incremental health care utilization and expenditures for sleep disorders in the United States
  • [28] Huang et al, 2022, Sleep and physical activity in relation to all-cause, cardiovascular disease and cancer mortality risk
  • [29] Franzen, P. L et al, 2008, Relationships between affect, vigilance, and sleepiness following sleep deprivation
  • [30] Scott, A. J. et al, 2021, Improving sleep quality leads to better mental health: A meta-analysis of randomised controlled trials
  • [31] Castro-Diehl, C. et al, 2018, Mediterranean diet pattern and sleep duration and insomnia symptoms in the Multi-Ethnic Study of Atherosclerosis
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