Sleep and Sleep Disorders

Research has shown that the average UK person sleeps between 5.78 and 6.83 hours a night. Typically, women get more sleep than males. The UK is facing an epidemic of people constantly ‘tired’, so what are we doing wrong?

Why do we sleep?

Sleeping allows our brain time to rest and recuperate. It allows us to affirm memories and consolidate what we have learned in the day. Furthermore, it allows our body a period of unconsciousness to fix and tend to any damage in the body, produce hormones and repair muscles.

We all know that sleepy feeling. We all have something called a circadian rhythm. Typically circadian rhythms cause us to feel sleepy in the night time and awake in the day. This is governed by a neurotransmitter called melatonin. When we are surrounded by faded light our melatonin increases which will bring about ‘sleepiness’.Melatonin begins to increase around 6 pm and decrease around 3 am until we naturally wake up.

The first phase of sleep leads us out of consciousness and into unconsciousness. The second stage is a slightly deeper level of sleep but is still considered a ‘light’ sleep. Then, there are the third and fourth stages, this is where the body enters delta wave sleep, this is the deepest stage of sleep. We hear a lot about REM or Rapid Eye Movement, this is a very deep stage of sleep where dreams take place and our bodies lose muscle tone, seeing biological changes within the body such as differences blood pressure and heart rate.

Common Reasons why people don’t sleep

Common complaints of people with sleep disorders or struggle to sleep include the following:

  • Too much caffeine- Caffeine is a stimulant and so can prevent feelings of tiredness
  • Late technology activity- Late technology activity can trick the body into staying awake for longer due to light.
  • Stress and overthinking- Has been shown to increase cortisol levels which can increase the feeling of awakeness
  • Having young children- Breaking the sleep cycle
  • Snoring or their partner snoring- Breaking the sleep cycle
  • Excessive Noise- Can prevent the deeper stages of sleep
  • Health conditions related to lack of sleep 

Studies have shown that chronic lack of sleep can increase the risk of some really scary diseases. Namely:

  • Obesity - Reduced sleep can cause a person to feel more tired. This can lead a person to reach for energy dense sources of foods such as fast food, confectionery, crisps and chocolate. A study showed that people that slept under 6 hours a night were more likely to be overweight and obese than those that sleep over 8 hours.
  • Diabetes- Research has shown that the body is unable to metabolise glucose in the same way when it is suffering from lack of sleep. This can affect blood glucose, insulin levels and thus diabetes.
  • Cardiovascular Disease- There is research to suggest that lack of sleep is associated with increased risk of heart attacks, coronary artery disease, atherosclerosis and coronary heart disease.

Tips to Improve Sleep

    • Limit your caffeine to less than 100mg or one strong coffee a day.
    • Put your phone/laptop down at least 1 hour before you go to bed.
    • Take 5-HTP or 5-hydroxytryptophan. This is a precursor to melatonin and can stimulate sleepiness.
    • Take yoga or an exercise class to reduce stress.
    • Download a sleep tracker to assess how long you are sleeping in each sleep cycle.
    • Don’t drink caffeine after 3 pm.
    • Make time to relax before you go to bed.
    • If you can, try to wake up naturally rather than stunning your sleep-wake cycle.
      • Try to stick to a consistent bedtime and wake time. Even on the weekends. Sleep is the most essential part of your day. Make your bed your best friend and your health a priority. Catch some Zs and decrease the risk of disease.


      Harriet Hunter, ANutr. Nutritionist