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Nourish’s Head of Customer Experience, Daniel Hollingworth, talks about the importance of a good night’s sleep, and what can be done to improve your quality of sleep as well as the people you care for. 

What keeps you up at night? Perhaps it’s a weak bladder, or the traffic from the street outside. For me it’s more than one cup of coffee a day and a young child who doesn’t seem to need sleep at all.

While the odd bad night’s sleep is normal for many of us, regular disruption to sleep can affect our immune systems, making us more susceptible to illness. Other side effects of poor-quality sleep include sluggishness and slower brain function. This is why monitoring sleep patterns and trends is essential within a care environment, it can help us pinpoint areas for improvement and understand what it is that could be affecting sleep. But how to get better sleep?

What is ‘quality’ sleep?

Quality sleep is a combination of Rapid Eye Movement (REM sleep) and Non-REM (deep sleep), that allows for rest, rejuvenation and even solidifying memories. REM sleep is also essential for emotional and mental health. Sleep cycles take around 90 minutes, and you ideally want to have at least four of five cycles per night. The average person needs a recommended 7-9 hours of sleep, with the ideal amount sitting around the 8-hour mark.

How can we measure better sleep in care?

In a typical care environment, night checks are the norm, and waking state is recorded, and anyone else who appears to be sleeping is recorded as asleep. Although this gives an ok understanding of how much the person has slept or remained awake, it doesn’t actually look at the quality of their sleep.

With a wealth of technology available such as wearables and monitors, we are now able to track sleep quality with great accuracy. When you think of sleep tracking, people tend to think of fitness bands for the wrist, but there are a lot of affordable trackers available, from bedside table noise sensors, under mattress sensors and even wearable rings, these devices can all assess and manage sleep with convenience and comfort.

Why improve sleep quality?

Everything gets better with a good night’s sleep!

It has been shown that the regularity of your sleep is just as important as the amount of sleep you get at night. It is always better for your health to get regular sleep than to binge on sleep at the weekends, for example. We all feel more alert after a good night’s sleep, but when sleep deprived, the brain has a 40% reduction in capacity to learn.

Research being conducted by Jonathon Cedernaes from Uppsala University in Sweden suggests that sleepless nights can create an increase in an Alzheimer’s related protein called ‘tau’, suggesting a link between poor sleep patterns and more complicated health issues.

Good quality sleep is what boosts our immune system to help fight off disease, so when our sleep is compromised, so is our health. One of the most important factors in ensuring flu vaccines work is to ensure you’re looking after your immune system. Lack of sleep means your body may not be able to create enough antibodies to fight off the virus, therefore resulting in a higher probability of getting flu.

How can we improve our sleep quality?

Fortunately, there are many ways we can improve our sleep quality. Many care environments now encourage caffeine free hot drinks, and for good reason. In one study it was found that consuming caffeine six hours prior to bedtime reduces sleep time by one hour. So whether you’re looking to boost your own sleep patterns or wanting to improve sleep in elderly residents you support,  a simple change such as switching to decaf can make a difference.

This doesn’t sound that significant until you compare it to further research which found that heart attacks increase by 24% when the clocks go forward in spring at daylight saving time. However, when they go back in autumn, heart attack cases decrease by 21%. This really shows what a difference an hour of sleep can make.

So that swap to decaffeinated drinks really could be a life saver.

Drinking enough fluid is very important and many of the people we support have fluid targets in place for this very reason. Try to drink consistently throughout the day rather than trying to hit your fluid intake in the latter half of the day. The more fluid you drink at the end of the day the more likely you are to make that bathroom trip, breaking your sleep cycle. This also correlates with falls during the night.

Finally, one of the best ways to encourage quality sleep is to increase physical activity. Not only does exercise reduce stress, it has been shown to reset sleep/wake cycles by increasing then decreasing body temperature which triggers tiredness a few hours later.

Better sleep habits and getting good quality sleep is essential in ensuring the body and mind rest, repair and prepare for the next day. Do you monitor your sleep or carry out sleep assessments on those you support to help get better quality sleep in care? Let us know by leaving a comment below