Sleep is vital for good physical health and emotional wellbeing. Research has found that sleep plays a vital role in the functioning of nearly every part of the body. But how much do we actually need?
8 hours? Well for some yes – it is the number of hours we naturally crave and from studies seems that 8 hours is the magic number, but, with a busy lifestyle, it is not always possible to sleep for this long.
You may think that catching up on a weekend is the answer. Unfortunately not – research has shown that even after three days of as much sleep as they wanted the participants in the study did not return to their natural cognitive functionality.
Therefore, it appears it takes more than the weekend to get over sleep deprivation of any level.
Rather than catching up on sleep, it is best to be consistent with the quality of sleep throughout the week – good sleep hygiene practices can help with this, here are my top tips:
- REGULAR SLEEP ROUTINE
Have a consistent sleep pattern 7 days a week, going to bed and getting up at the same time each day where possible. A lie-in is not always a good thing, it can disrupt your routine.
Before you head to bed try to relax. Read a book, meditate, stretch, do yoga, have a bath; anything that relaxes your body and mind. Avoid energetic exercise, scrolling through your phone, or completing work tasks.
- AVOID STIMULANTS
Do not drink caffeine, sugary drinks, and limit alcohol in the afternoon and on the run-up to your bedtime. Avoid nicotine as this is also a stimulant and increases the heart rate.
- POSITIVE SLEEP ENVIRONMENT
Keep your bedroom between 17-21oC and allow fresh air to flow through daily. Make sure it is clean, tidy, and free from clutter because this will keep your mind clear enough to relax. (see my article on the benefits of this here). A comfortable mattress, pillow, and bedding are essential. Avoid TVs in your bedroom so your bed is only associated with sleep or intimacy.
- REDUCE NOISE & LIGHT
Use blackout blinds/curtains or a sleep mask to eliminate daylight or streetlights disturbing you. If you cannot control the noise use earplugs or soothing/meditative music to mask external noise.
- EXERCISE & DAYLIGHT
Try to do regular exercise, but nothing intense before bedtime. Spend some time outside in daylight which will have a positive effect on your energy levels as well as increasing vitamin D levels.
- EAT WELL
A daily balanced diet avoiding heavy fatty fried foods, spicy foods late at night, high sugar foods, and alcohol will balance your metabolism and help your body settle at night internally.
So now you have the tips to helping get you ready for sleep, here are my top 10 reasons why sleep is important for your health and wellbeing:
- REDUCES STRESS
If your body does not get enough sleep, it can react by producing more of the stress hormones, which are a natural result of today’s faster-paced lifestyles. Deep and regular sleep can help prevent this. Making you less stressed when you wake.
- IMPROVE YOUR MEMORY
Ever noticed that when you are really tired it is harder to remember things? Basically, this is your brain telling you that it is not getting enough sleep. When you sleep well, your body may be resting but your brain is busy organising and storing memories. Getting more quality sleep will help you remember and process things better.
- LOWER YOUR BLOOD PRESSURE
Higher blood pressure increases your chances of heart attacks and stroke but getting plenty of restful sleep encourages a constant state of relaxation that can help reduce blood pressure and generally keep it under control.
- HELPS YOUR BODY FIGHT BACK
While sleeping your body is producing extra protein molecules that can strengthen your ability to fight infection. So, if you are feeling a bit run down and you do not want it to turn into a full-blown cold or illness, go to bed early and get lots of rest.
- MAINTAINS YOUR WEIGHT
Unfortunately, sleep will not directly make you lose weight, but it can help you keep it under control by regulating the hormones that affect your appetite and reducing your cravings for high-calorie foods.
- PUTS YOU IN A BETTER MOOD
Lack of sleep can make us more agitated, so we are more likely to snap at the boss or be grumpy with a loved one, neither of which is a good thing. The better you sleep the better your ability to stay calm, controlled, and reasonable.
- COULD REDUCE YOUR RISK OF DIABETES
Some research studies have shown that not getting enough sleep may lead to type 2 diabetes by affecting how your body processes glucose. It is not conclusive by any means, but it is yet another indication of how important the benefits of sleep can be.
- KEEPS THE HEART HEALTHY
A regular sleep pattern can help to lower the levels of stress and inflammation in your cardiovascular system, which in turn can reduce your chances of a stroke or heart condition.
- ACTS AS A PAINKILLER
If you are suffering pain from a recent injury like a sprained ankle, getting plenty of sleep can reduce the level of pain. Many studies have shown a link between sleep loss and a lower pain threshold. Basically, the more sleep you get the less pain you might be in.
- MAKES US SMARTER
Along with a great night’s sleep, grabbing a quick nap in the daytime can contribute to making your brain more effective and productive. You will not necessarily be answering all the questions on University Challenge, but you may well feel sharper, more attentive, and focused throughout the day.
Personally, I am not a night owl. I love my bed and I am rarely seen awake past 10:30 pm and prefer to get up in the morning than lie in bed. As the Dalai Lama once said, “sleep is the best meditation” and I believe this to be true, there is so much that a good night’s sleep can help with. I hope you can start putting some of these into practice to balance your own well-being.
For more support with your physical wellness and how to gain a balance in all aspects of your lifestyle, head to my Wellness Training to learn how to create better habits, improve your wellness and live a happier healthier life.
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