Friday 13th March was World Sleep Day, an opportunity to highlight the fact that most of us in the UK are not getting enough sleep.
On average, we get between six and seven hours sleep each night, when most of us need about eight to be properly refreshed.
Sleep averages have gradually reduced over the last 20 years or so. And the fact that less than seven hours is now normal obscures how harmful it is to our mental and physical wellbeing.
If we have hardly ever experienced a full night’s sleep, we may have no idea how much better we might feel day-to-day if we did.
Sleep loss leads to poor concentration and decision-making and can even cause reduced brain function and memory loss. It increases anxiety and low mood. The physical costs include a weakened immune system, weight gain, higher blood pressure and increased risk of diabetes, heart problems and infertility.
If, like about a third of us, you suffer from insomnia – that’s struggling to get to sleep or waking in the night – there is plenty of good advice available on websites such as https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/insomnia/ If you have tried that advice and it doesn’t work, talk to your doctor.
But what about the rest of us, why are we getting less sleep than we need?
Is it that life is just too busy? There’s so much that needs to be done, for ourselves, our kids and at work, just to keep things on an even keel. Plus we want to achieve something in life and have some relaxation and fun.
Maybe feeling tired all the time feels like a reasonable sacrifice to get what we want out of life. Maybe.
Maybe, at some deeper level, we don’t feel we have earned a good night’s sleep. We should do more or be better. In my book, prioritising other things above our own wellbeing (except in rare emergencies), or believing we don’t have a choice in the matter, is a clue that we don’t truly value ourselves.
And if we really want to get the most out of life, that’s what needs to change.
Karen Bray (MBACP) is a counsellor with a private practice in Bath. Her website is at www.karenbray.co.uk.