In the modern world it seems there aren’t enough hours in the day, and it can be all too easy to sacrifice sleep in order to reclaim some precious time.
But whilst the health-conscious of us work hard each and every day to eat well and move more, depriving our bodies of the rest it needs could be having an adverse effect on our health.
The sanctity of sleep is something which is less understood compared with nutrition and fitness, but good rest in addition to these factors could be the holy trinity you need to look and feel your best!
Read on to discover the importance of sleep – and what you can do to make sure you’re getting enough shut-eye each night.
What is Sleep and why do we need it?
Sleep is amazing - in fact, if you think about it too much it could well keep you up at night! When we sleep our consciousness is suspended, our nervous system is inactive and our muscles relax. If we were a machine, we’d be on standby. This process is necessary to allow both mind and body to rest and recuperate – to recharge our batteries. When we don’t get enough sleep, our brains cannot function to their normal level and so everyday tasks become more difficult to perform. Sleep deprivation can cause agitation, moodiness and poor concentration. Long-term, it has also been linked to physical health problems such as Diabetes, obesity and heart disease. So sleep really doze matter!
“But I’m a bad Sleeper” I hear you say…
We are all different, and it is true that some people can get by with less sleep than others. There are some conditions which directly affect sleep patterns, such as sleep apnoea, but these are relatively rare. The truth is that most people who have themselves down as poor sleepers have probably picked up some bad habits that are making it near impossible for them to get a decent night’s sleep. The good news? Bad habits can be morphed into good ones – you may be rewarded with some precious pillow time yet!
5 Good Habits to Promote Natural Sleep
Chances are there are elements of your daily routine that are impacting your ability to sleep well. You may not have even realised that these are connected but changing them will make you rethink your rest. Sleeping through the night, feeling rested upon waking and not suffering with tiredness throughout the day are all signs of a good quality sleep. On the other hand, feeling fatigued, wanting a cat nap and yawning on a loop are all signs you’re not meeting your sleep requirements! Here are five easy tips to help you fall asleep and stay asleep.
- Minimise your Exposure to Stress and Anxiety
Playing video games, watching box sets and working late all stimulate natural stress hormones in the body, which are released in response to excitement. These hormones, such as cortisol, are released to support our ‘fight or flight’ mode and prepare us for survival. In other words, they work to keep us as alert as possible – something which we should definitely try and avoid when we are supposed to be winding down! Try watching something more light-hearted, reading a book or having a nice cooling shower to reduce circulating levels of stress hormones.
- Plan your Naps Wisely
Feeling fatigued throughout the day is a good indicator that you’re not getting enough sleep. Whilst most of us put all of our eggs in one basket hoping for one long sleep per day, research has shown we may be better reverting back to our pre-industrial habits and going for the double snooze! Before the modern era it was common practice to have two sleeps per day, rather than one. This is known as biphasic sleeping (rather than monophasic). Anthropological studies have shown that having two sleeps in a 24-hour period, separated with a few hours of wakefulness, won’t only make you more energised but could also lengthen your lifespan.
Although some modern societies practice the siesta, it is most common for adults to have only one sleeping episode per day. But if your working schedule permits we’d recommend having a 20-45 minute nap – ideally between 1-3pm – if you’re feeling the midday slump. What’s more, try to avoid caffeine cravings and sugar-seeking, as this quick fix will wear-off fast.
- Make your Bedroom a Sanctuary for Sleep
It may seem simple but creating a dark environment is one of the best ways to encourage your body to sleep. Your body clock is light-sensitive and darkness tells it that it is time to rest. If your room is bright or it’s the time of year for light nights, try using blackout curtains or blinds. You should also invest in some good quality pillows and a comfortable mattress to support your body as you sleep. In short, your bedroom should be cool, dark, quiet and comfortable to create an optimal sleeping environment.
- Move more throughout the Day
Exercise uses energy – and once these stores are depleted up your body will automatically try to preserve itself by resting, promoting sleep. This is what leaves you feeling like you could drop in a heap after an intense workout! Conversely, if you have excess energy – from a big meal before bed time, or a day low in physical activity – you may feel agitated and restless, which will keep you awake also.
Moving more doesn’t necessarily have to be a fitness regime, it could just be tweaking your day to include as much physical activity as possible. For example, using the stairs rather than the elevator and trying to walk short distances rather than taking the car. Exercise also relieves stress and releases dopamine, a neurotransmitter which plays an important role in sleep regulation.
- Steer Clear of Screens
Ever wondered why your tech has the option to use night mode? It’s because using your phone, tablet or laptop at night exposes your eyes to unnatural light, which fools the brain into thinking it’s daylight and so a time to be awake. Our brains produce melatonin, a hormone which controls the sleep-wake cycle, and the blue light from our gadget disrupts this hormone more than any other form of light. Whilst night mode reduces the amount of blue light emitted, using our tech after hours still affects melatonin and causes sleeplessness.
It’s also best to keep the television in another room altogether. If you’re lying awake at night you can soon get bored and the urge to grab the remote for some entertainment may be too strong to resist! It is recommended to avoid screens for at least one hour before you’re planning to go to bed.
Finding a sleep pattern that works for you isn’t about getting 8 hours shut-eye every night. It’s about getting into a routine where you find it easy to fall asleep and stay asleep. This will leave you feeling energised upon waking and ready to take on whatever the day brings! Getting enough rest should be an integral part of any healthy lifestyle and shouldn’t be sacrificed to accommodate a busy schedule. Sleeping soundly will improve your mood, motivation and even physical health. So light’s out and hit the pillow – you’ve got some rest to catch up on!
References - because the Experimenter Boy loves science
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- Patel SR.Reduced sleep as an obesity risk factor. Obes Rev 2009;10(Suppl 2):61–8
- Dijk DJ.Regulation and functional correlates of slow wave sleep. J Clin Sleep Med 2009;5(2 Suppl):S6–15.
- Jaussent I, Dauvilliers Y, Ancelin ML, Dartigues JF, Tavernier B, Touchon J, Ritchie K, Besset A.Insomnia symptoms in older adults: associated factors and gender differences. Am J Geriatr Psychiatry 2011;19:88–97.