The best gift you can give is sleep

My colleagues at PHE London have been working hard on a project called 'Good Thinking', which was launched back in October.  This initiative is part of the ongoing work to promote good mental health and harnesses social media to track digital footprints that people leave through their internet searches and link them to the appropriate self-help measure.  Ever noticed that when you're looking at Facebook an advert pops up showing the exact coat/car/holiday that you would buy? It's almost as though they knew your mind.  Well, your search patterns have left digital footprints and so you can be targeted with the products that you are likely to desire and purchase.  A similar thing can be done for health.  An algorithm can be run to link your health searches to the right service to help you.    The idea is that if you're suffering from ill health, you can be directed to a health service locally that can help you.  This has huge implications for improving self-help around mental health and guess what was the first thing they decided to tackle?  The thing that the vast majority of people seek help online for? Sleep.  

It seems that inability to sleep is a huge issue.  In recent weeks, I've read about how our addiction to smartphones can lead to people being unable to switch off (funnily enough there's even an app or two to help you with it!)  Modern day lifestyle is demanding, jam packed and stressful.  Grazia (one of my favourite magazines) recently had a column on how the best Valentine's Day gift was sleep.  Gifting your partner a 'lie in' (or 'sleep in') topped any fancy dinner or bunch of flowers.  Another column I read on my daily commute was that a positive with January was that you were too poor to party so you can get to catch up on zzzz.  The new thing in spa breaks is to take yourself to luxary sleep clinics and they'll monitor your sleep as you rest and offer advice on how to improve it.  With a toddler of my own (who seems to be naturally insominac) I only know too well what years of sleep deprivation can do to you.  Grumpiness and sugar eating are just the beginning.  Before you know it, you're permanently lethargic (and for some people depressed).  So true that motherhood is fuelled by caffeine and sustained by wine!    

Sleep is not only good for your mind but for your metabolism, your dental health (~10% of adults grind their teeth while sleeping), restoring your physical health and for your immune system.  I came across a great guide on how to perfect your sleeping to improve your immunity -  They even provide 8 hacks on how to sleep with a cold or flu.  The website also talks about mattresses and having a good mattress is key to good night's sleep.  You're supposed to change your mattress every 9-10 years.  They wear out after all.  It makes sense yet how many of us actually do it?  

People talk about needing at least 8 hours a night to restore you.  However, a recent talk I attended suggested that our bodies sleep in cycles which last 3 hours.  So, you're better off sleeping 3, 6 or 9 hours. Our bodies go in cycles through 4 stages of non-REM and then one stage of REM (the bit where you dream).   See  for more details.  You naturally wake after REM, hence why 3, 6 or 9 hours are better for you.  Naturally waking is of course better for you than the artificial sound of the alarm clock (which I personally find stressful as I'm so anxious I will sleep through it that I lie awake all night!) 

What can you do to help you sleep better?  There are number of resources online and over the counter remedies.  NHS Choices ( and The Sleep Foundation have good tips.  I recently came across a sleep hygiene plan by Sleepopolis that was devised to help quality of sleep.  This is a day-by-day plan providing actionable recommendations that anyone can implement and aims to gradually improve a person's sleep hygiene. There is also a downloadable calendar outlining the plan to make following along more simple.   Fingerprint For Success also have a very helpful page on sleep and mental health

Having bedtime routines is really important; a way to wind down every evening so your body can prepare for sleep.  Avoid stimulation like TV or your smartphone is a good step as is darkening your room (perhaps using a lamp rather than a main light) before sleep.  Some people swear by a cup of herbal tea or hot milk, others like a good book to tire the brain.  A bath can help too.  Whatever you use, pick a routine and stick to the timing.  Going to bed and waking at the same time every day is good for you.  Before you know it, you're feeling energised and all the other healthy bits (good diet, exercise, mental health) start falling into place too.