Why Shut-Eye Is the Key to a Healthier Life; LISA SALMON Finds out Why It Is Important to Sleep Yourself Well

Article excerpt

Byline: LISA SALMON

GOOD sleep is as vital to our wellbeing as healthy eating and exercise - but it's often the first casualty in today's hectic world.

Busy people wrongly believe that it won't hurt to cut back on something which takes such a large chunk out of their packed schedules.

In fact, new research from Travelodge has found that 75% of Britain's workforce are getting less than eight hours sleep a night, often due to worries over job security, or financial concerns.

Whatever the reason for missing out on sleep, it can lead to a whole host of health problems, aside from feeling tired and wretched.

Indeed, poor sleep has been linked to increases in diabetes, obesity, heart disease, depression, and suicidal behaviour, and sleeping six hours or less a night has been shown to increase mortality.

In addition, even if you're not tired yourself, you could be killed by someone who is - tired drivers now kill more people on Europe's roads than drunk drivers.

Sleep expert Dr Neil Stanley believes the vital health and wellbeing messages about a good night's sleep are simply not getting through to the public.

He said: "Although we have a lot of health warnings about diet and exercise, the health messages around sleep are less well-made.

"People see sleep as disposable. We've become so much busier these days, and there's always something seemingly better to do than sleep.

"But decent sleep will do you more good than diet or exercise, because it's the bedrock from which you can build these healthy measures."

If you're sleep deprived, however, other healthy measures may simply crumble around you.

Aside from the fact that if you're tired, you're less likely to exercise, sleep is when muscle stress that's occurred during exercise is repaired - so lack of sleep means lack of repairs.

In addition, sleep deprivation isn't good for your figure, as the more tired you are, the more you crave sugary foods.

In fact, a recent study found that young men ate 22% more calories when they had four hours of sleep the night before, compared to when they slept for eight hours.

Writing in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, researchers from the European Centre for Taste Sciences in France concluded: "Sleep restriction could be one of the environmental factors that contribute to the obesity epidemic."

So, as well as simply feeling better after a good night's sleep, your diet and exercise regimes can benefit too.

But exactly what is a good night's sleep? We're often told the recommended amount is eight hours - yet Dr Stanley, who has been involved in sleep research for more than 25 years and is a past chairman of the British Sleep Society, says it's not clear where the eight hours claim came from.

"What's important with sleep is that you get the amount you need," he explained.

"Anywhere between three and 11 hours can be considered normal."

Margaret Thatcher famously only needed four hours' sleep, although Dr Stanley questions whether four hours was what the former Prime Minister needed, or simply what she allowed herself.

"If she only needed four hours then fine, but if she only allowed herself four hours then she was running at a deficit, and doing harm to her health by not getting the sleep she needed," he said.

The way to know if you're getting the right amount of sleep is simply by thinking about how you feel during the day.

If you feel awake, alert, and alive, then you're probably getting enough sleep.

If you feel tired, miserable and grumpy, then you probably need more.

However, getting more sleep may not be as easy as it sounds.

While for some people, sleep deprivation is almost a lifestyle choice, for many it's the result of stress.

"In this day and age it's stress which is one of the major causes of poor sleep, because of financial worries and job security - we've also just got more things on our plate," said Dr Stanley. …