Updated: Nov 26, 2020
It is something we do every day. It is free, and is one of the most important ways to optimise our mental, physical and emotional health! However, we are becoming so bad at sleeping that according to the Centre for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), sleep disorders are so prevalent that they now constitute a public health epidemic (1).
We live in a society where screens are the ultimate focus in our life, sleep is not given priority anymore. There are Netflix shows to binge watch, work emails to answer, assignments to finish, social media posts to scroll through. We say to ourselves that we’ll catch up on sleep just after we click down one last digital rabbit hole…
Good quality sleep (+ getting enough of it!) is essential. Sleep affects almost every type of tissue and system in the body – from the brain, heart, and lungs to metabolism, immune function, mood, and disease resistance. This article we will try to motivate you to prioritise healthy habits in order to promote good quality sleep!
What Is Sleep?
Throughout your time asleep, your brain will cycle repeatedly through two different types of sleep:
Non-REM sleep (slow-wave sleep)
REM (rapid-eye movement) sleep
The first part of the cycle is non-REM sleep, which is composed of four stages (5):
The first stage comes between being awake and falling asleep.
The second is light sleep where the heart rate slows and the body temperature decreases.
The third and fourth stages are deep sleep.
As you cycle into REM sleep about 90 minutes after falling asleep, your eyes move rapidly behind closed lids, and brain waves become similar to when you are awake. Breathing rate increases and the body becomes temporarily paralysed as we dream (which prevents us from acting out our dreams!) (5).
The cycle then repeats itself, but with each cycle you spend less time in the deeper (stages three and four) of sleep and more time in REM sleep. On a typical night, you’ll go through four or five times cycles (5).
How Much Should We Sleep?
It is recommended that adults must sleep 7 or more hours a day (2). However, sleep duration during the last 40 years has decreased by two hours due to workload, lifestyle, social activities, and technology (3).
What Are The Benefits Of Sleep?
Getting quality sleep can improve your health in more ways than you can imagine! You'll feel better both physically and mentally and it can lower your risk of various health problems down the line.
1. Sleep reduces the risk of type 2 diabetes
Sleep disorders can increase the risk of insulin resistance and diabetes. A sleep disorder can also increase the risk of complications related to diabetes. The relationship between sleep and diabetes is bi-directional, meaning that well-managed diabetes would result in better sleep quality also (4).
2. Sleep helps to protect against heart disease, cancer and strokes
Evidence suggests people who sleep 7-8 hours a night have lower rates of cardiovascular disease, cancer and stroke (6).
3. Sleep changes what we eat
Studies show that sleep-deprived individuals have a bigger appetite and tend to consume more. Sleep deprivation disrupts the daily fluctuations in appetite hormones and is believed to cause poor appetite regulation (7) (8).
4. Sleep helps us control our weight
Short sleep duration is associated with a drastically increased risk of weight gain and obesity, in both children and adults (7) (9).
5. Sleep can improve our concentration and focus
Sleep deprivation can easily disrupt concentration, as well as other cognitive functions, such as memory and attention.
6. Sleep helps sustain happiness
A study showed that individuals that slept 7 hours a night had good moods but when the same group of participants were sleep deprived, on just under five hours a night, their moods become low, and their emotional and physical complaints increased four times (10). Their mental states then returned to normal when they returned to sleeping seven hours a night.
7. Sleep can reduce anger, depression, and anxiety
Sleep deprivation can exacerbate pre-existing mood disturbances, such as anger, depression, and anxiety, and can lead to confusion and fatigue (11) (13). Even just one sleepless night correlates with these changes in function (12) (14).
8. Sleep helps to restore energy
During good quality sleep, your body restores many functions it calls on during daily life, such as temperature regulation, immune system and steady hormone levels. All of these factors play a role in how much energy you have. To operate at your peak potential, you need to maintain these functions through quality sleep. (15)
9. Sleep is vital for our physical strength
Hormonal activity during sleep is vital for our physical health, particularly growth and repair. 60- 70% of growth hormones are released during first few hours of sleep timing. Without sleep, very little amounts are released (38).
10. Sleeps helps our memory
Research strongly suggests that sleep, is crucial for learning and forming long-term memories (16, 17, 18).
7 Steps To Achieve High Quality Sleep
We can implement healthy sleep habits from the moment we wake up!
1. Develop a ‘winding down’ routine before bedtime: When it gets dark outside, dim the lights in your house and reduce blue or full-spectrum light in your environment by shutting off all electronics 1 or 2 hours before sleep. The light from laptop screens, televisions, and phones can affect the production of melatonin, which means your body isn't preparing the hormones it needs to enter the sleep phase (24).
2. Enhance your sleeping environment: The ideal sleeping environment is dark, cool, and quiet. Don't make your bedroom a multi-purpose room. Eliminate TVs, laptops, electronics, and general clutter as these factors can decrease sleep quality and increase wakefulness.
3. Get outside: Aim for at least 30 minutes of sun exposure each day (try walking outside on your lunch break). Exposing ourselves to natural light in the day, helps sleep onset at night (19).
4. Relaxation techniques before bed: Proven methods include daily journaling, deep breathing exercises, prayer, meditation, hot bath or keeping a gratitude journal where you can write down something you are grateful for each day. All these methods can help you achieve high quality sleep.
5. Exercise 20-30 mins a day: Exercise is a proven effective approach to improve sleep quality as it will make it easier for your brain and body to power down at night (21, 22, 23). Important note: exercise no later than 2 to 3 hours before going to bed, performing it too late in the day may cause sleep problems due to the stimulatory effect of exercise, which increases alertness and hormones like adrenaline.
6. Avoid caffeine late in the day: Ideally no caffeine after 2pm as it can have disruptive effects on sleep (20).
7. Set a schedule: Going to bed and waking up at the same time every day creates consistency which can improve the quality and duration of your sleep as our bodies become accustomed to schedule. Staying up late and sleeping in late on weekends can disrupt our body clock's sleep–wake cycle.
Sleep plays a vital role in optimal health and well-being throughout our life. Getting enough quality sleep at the right times can help protect our mental, physical and emotional health, which improves our quality of life! Sleep is non-negotiable. You can either make time to rest and recover now or let it become a barrier between you and your optimal performance.
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