All about sleep: The good, the bad and the sleepy
We spend around one third of our lives in this unconscious state, but do we truly understand the importance of sleep in our lives?Not only does a good night’s rest help with energy levels the next day, it assists with stress management, memory, learning, removing toxins from the brain, stabilising hormone levels and more!
Can you remember the last time you woke up − without an alarm clock − feeling refreshed, and not needing caffeine? Is that a no? You are not alone!
Experts recommend that adults get 7-9 hours of sleep a night. Nearly 50% of us sleep less than these recommendations, which can lead to surprising consequences. For example, sleep deprivation affects the human body in a similar way to being drunk. Would you expect to have a productive day at the office if you’d had a few drinks for breakfast? We didn’t think so!
Much like alcohol, not getting enough sleep (less than six hours) on a regular basis can have many short-term and long-term effects. Sleep deprivation can weaken your immune system considerably, increase your risk of a range of chronic conditions such as obesity, cardiovascular disease, stroke and type 2 diabetes. It also can impact fertility and contribute to major mental health conditions, including depression, anxiety, and a higher risk of suicide. In other words, a routine lack of sleep can devastate your body and brain. Catching up on sleep isn’t as easy as simply having a weekend ‘sleep-in’. It can take days or weeks to recover from a bout of sleep deprivation.
It takes four days to recover from one hour of lost sleep!
A good night’s sleep goes beyond ditching those five coffees you need to get through the day, requiring us to look much deeper into our everyday lives.
Getting restful sleep can help us to:
- improve concentration, memory and attention span
- manage our calorie intake
- stimulate better athletic performance, productivity, and creativity
- keep our immune system strong
- boost mental wellbeing
- live longer lives.
So, ‘how do I get more sleep?’, I hear you ask!
To help kick sleep deprivation to the curb, let’s start with improving your sleep hygiene. No, that doesn’t mean washing your sheets more often! Although, who’s to say that fresh linen wouldn’t help! These six handy tips to overhaul your sleep habits can help you say goodnight to sleepless nights:
Set up a regular bedtime routine
Our body has an internal clock and hormones that control sleepiness and wakefulness which works best if there is a regular sleep routine. Ensure you are getting plenty of natural daylight as this can help regulate your internal clock. Also, ensure that your regular bedtime allows you to catch enough hours of ‘zzz’s. This sleep calculator can show you what your bedtime should be, based on when you need to wake up.
Keep the hour before bed as wind down timeDevelop a routine that prepares your body and mind for sleep. This will vary from person to person, however some things that you may find relaxing include having a warm bath/shower, reading in a quiet space, listening to music or a podcast, being in a dimly lit space before bed, meditation, breathing exercises, light yoga or stretching.
Limit stimulants before bed
the use of electronic devices which produce blue light, at least one hour before bed can reduce disruption on our sleep-promoting hormone called melatonin. This includes responding to emails and text messages, television, computer games and social media, and avoiding brightly lit rooms or environments.
Focus on rest
If you wake up during the night and struggle to get back to sleep, don’t roll over and grab your phone or tablet. Try instead to adopt an accepting attitude to minimise any distress with this frustrating situation which will increase cortisol. Being stressed will keep you even more awake.
If you tend to start thinking about all the worries of the day once you get into bed, try journaling or jotting down a to-do-list to help get those thoughts out of your head and on to paper. Then, leave them on paper. Or, practice a mindfulness activity to help keep your thoughts grounded in the present.
Leave your bedroom if you can’t sleep
You can’t fall asleep, or you wake up in the middle of the night and still haven’t fallen back to sleep after 20-30 minutes… what do you usually tend to do? Lie in bed and toss and turn? Let’s change it up. Leave the room and go to a quiet and dimly lit space and do something relaxing until you feel drowsy. Things like reading under a dim light, trying a sleep meditation, breathing exercises, listening to a podcast, or − if you find music relaxing − a playlist of soft sleep music may help. Spotify has plenty of sleep music playlists and podcasts that might help you feel like drifting off again. If you’re looking for sleep meditation, the Calm or Headspace apps are very popular choices.
Other factors include trying to avoid intense exercise within a few hours of bedtime, and limiting caffeine, smoking, alcohol, rich and spicy foods which can interfere with your quality sleep.
A final word
Getting adequate sleep and practicing good sleep hygiene is key to building healthy habits, whilst looking after your body and brain. Consider sleep one of the highest forms of self-care. So, put yourself first and start to prioritise sleep for a healthier and happier you.
Walker, M. (2017). Why We Sleep. Lane, A: Penguin Publishing.
Michael Mosley (2020). How to get a really good night’s rest. Simon & Schuster: Pty Limited
Katharina Lederle (2018). Sleep sense. Exisle Publishing
All information contained in this article is intended for general information purposes only. The information provided should not be relied upon as medical advice and does not supersede or replace a consultation with a suitably qualified healthcare professional.
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