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Very little is taught about the importance of sleep on our physical and mental health at medical school. Luckily, Nutritank are helping to encourage change to the curriculum at medical schools to ensure that the doctors of tomorrow can help empower patients to improve their health through positive lifestyle changes.

Up to 1 in 3 of us are not getting enough sleep, with potential consequences for our health. Sleep deprivation in the short term can cause fatigue, being short tempered and poor concentration. However, being sleep deprived in the long term can lead to more serious consequences such as a higher risk of chronic health problems like high blood pressure, heart disease, stroke and obesity. Sleep problems are also linked to mental health problems.

As a GP I regularly see patients presenting with sleep and mental health problems, such as anxiety or depression. Sometimes it is impossible to untangle which came first- the poor sleep or the mental health problem- but ultimately, I know when I see patients that good sleep health is absolutely key when it comes to maintaining good mental health.

Patients who have low mood or anxiety often report that their minds are in overdrive thinking whilst they are trying to sleep which stops them from dropping off. If they wake up they struggle to get back off for the same reasons. They then start to feel more frazzled during the day, which then leads to more disrupted sleep. Sometimes people with low mood wake up early, however, some people sleep more than usual and yet wake up feeling unrefreshed and unmotivated.

Once your sleep cycles are disrupted it can take weeks to restore them to normality. However, the good news is that often you can get yourself back into good sleep habits by some simple steps that you can do yourself. Even if you don’t have a mental health problem like depression, good sleep habits will help you to stay resilient.

 

Here are my top tips for improving sleep:

🏃🏻‍Getting some fresh air and exercising during the day will help improve the quality of your sleep

☕️ Reduce caffeine intake and avoid smoking 6 hours before bed

🚴🏻‍Avoid heavy exercise immediately before bed

🍷 Avoid alcohol 6 hours before bed

Avoid having a heavy meal immediately before bed

🖥 Avoid screen time immediately before bed. Screens- including TVs- emit blue rays which prevent sleep.

🌒 Ensure that your bedroom is quiet, cool and dark.

🛀 Try to relax before bed- have a warm bath, read a book or try some relaxation techniques.

🛌 Try mindfulness or meditation if you struggle to switch off. Apps such as Headspace and Calm are really helpful for this (Calm is free if you are a medical professional).

 

However, if the root cause of the problem is low mood or anxiety, then seeing your GP and treating the medical issue at hand with CBT or long term medication might help improve sleep too.

I have supported Nutritank since it was first set up at Bristol Medical School (where all the best doctors are made!). Their work in trying to expand the medical curriculum, improving the knowledge of healthcare professionals, and empowering the general public is absolutely key to encouraging us to become a healthier and happier society.

 

Dr Claire Ashley

Dr Claire Ashley

Dr Ashley is a portfolio GP with a passion for lifestyle medicine and Public Health. She has also worked as a Health Inequalities Fellow in the South West region.

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