Sleeping well more important than sleeping long for good health - five tips to get the best snooze

New research from Liverpool John Moores University has revealed that sleep quality trumps sleep duration in terms of our immunity to illness.

People can improve their health by sleeping better not longer, according to new research by Liverpool John Moores University.

According to LJMU, the study is the first of its kind, exploring sleep restriction and its impact on the immune system.

The new research by Professor Neil Walsh and his team, was published in the journal, Sleep, this week and links poor quality sleep to respiratory problems.

The study

The team of scientists followed 1,318 new recruits to the military for 12 weeks.

Their work involved tracking the participants’ sleep patterns and health in the weeks before training and after joining the military, where they had to follow strict wake-up routines, getting less sleep than they would at home.

Findings

On average, the participants were found to sleep two hours less during military training than civilian life.

However, the researchers noted that more than half of those with sleep restriction (less sleep) rated their sleep as good quality.

The data also revealed that those who reported sleep restriction during training were nearly three times as likely to suffer with respiratory infection.

However, sleep restriction only increased infection among those reporting poor sleep quality, while good sleep quality protected against respiratory illnesses, despite getting two hours less sleep than usual.

Professor Walsh explained: “There are two very key messages here: firstly that restricted sleep patterns can result in more frequent illness, and secondly and more surprisingly, that sleeping well can trump sleeping long in terms of our immunity to illness.

“That is an extremely useful message in our hectic world where sleep is often sacrificed for other pursuits.”

Tips for better sleep quality

Professor Walsh said the findings “change the way we should think about sleep and health” and that there are five things people can do to improve sleep quality:

- Adopting a consistent sleep schedule (similar bed and wake time), including weekends.

- Avoiding large meals, caffeine and alcohol close to bedtime.

- Ensuring the bed and pillow are comfortable and that the room is cool, dark and quiet.

- Establishing a relaxing bedtime routine - going screen-free 30 minutes before bedtime and going to bed when sleepy.

- Undertaking exercise during the day to help fall asleep.