The importance of sleep for your health
Sleep is essential for maintaining good physical and mental health. It’s so important that we thought we should devote a whole article about why we need it, what is considered a good night’s sleep, and tips to help us have a restful sleep.
Why We Need Sleep
I’m sure it goes without saying that when we don’t get a proper night’s sleep we are not our most happiest, energetic, productive selves. This is because lack of sleep affects our moods, energy levels and concentration. But did you know that it can also affect our ability to cope with stress, our immunity against colds and infections, our memory, our weight, and can put us at risk for diabetes? Being sleep deprived is linked to sugar cravings and overeating. This is because the hormone that regulates our appetite is over-stimulated trying to find fuel to keep us running, and the hormone that shuts down our appetite is decreased.
When we sleep, although our body is resting, our brain is still active conducting a biological “tune-up” if you will, that helps to keep us in peak performance physically, emotionally and mentally. This is a time for your body to heal and restore. We also produce a hormone at night called Melatonin which has many benefits for the body that affect our digestion and immunity. Melatonin is the body’s natural anti-cancer protection. There really is no replacement for lost sleep! Not only does our body lose its chance to rest and repair, but it also loses out on manufacturing a defence mechanism against cancer.
What’s a Good Night’s Sleep?
While some may say they are fine with 5 hours or less of sleep (I used to be one of them!), a huge body of research has shown that time and time again adults (18+) need at least 7.5-9 hours of sleep each night. And children require even more sleep, depending upon their age. This does not include time in bed while you fall asleep. Research shows us our sleep cycles are 90 minutes long, and we need 5 uninterrupted sleep cycles for a full night’s sleep. That is how we end up with the magic number of 7.5 hours needed for sleep. It’s good to plan when you wake up based on this sleep cycle, because if you wake up in the middle of a cycle you will feel more tired. For example, getting a little bit more than 8 hours sleep is not as good as getting 7.5 hours sleep because you’ve woken up in the middle of a cycle.
However, the number of hours we sleep is not as important as the quality of sleep that we get. We have four stages of sleep that we should go through each night – transition sleep, light sleep, deep sleep and then REM (rapid eye movement) sleep or dream sleep. The deep sleep stage is when our body repairs itself. This stage also has the biggest impact on the quality of our health, and our energy level for the next day. Any disruption to this stage of sleep is when we will experience symptoms from sleep deprivation mentioned above, so it is paramount to ensure you are sleeping soundly throughout the night.
How to Have a Restful Sleep
So now we know the benefits of sleep and what is considered a good night’s sleep, but how do we stay asleep throughout the night?
To the best of your ability, maintain a set sleep schedule each night. Choose a time to be in bed by and stick to that time each night. This is one of the best ways to set a sleep schedule.
An hour before you want to sleep, turn down the lights and turn off any electronic devices such as a tv, ipad, computer, etc. It is the screens that emit a lot of blue light which blocks the release of melatonin. A dark environment is what encourages your body to release melatonin which will help you have a restful sleep.
Keep your bedroom a bit cooler – studies have shown that the temperature of your room can affect your melatonin production. A cooler environment will help increase your melatonin production.
Avoid eating heavy meals at night as this can affect your body’s ability to stay asleep. If your body needs to focus on digestion, then it will be less efficient at its restorative process during sleep which means you’ll experience more fatigue the next day.
Try some relaxation techniques – this is great not only to help your body get into sleep mode, but also to de-stress from your day. The hormones produced by stress (adrenaline, cortisol) will directly impact your ability to fall asleep, so relaxation techniques such as yoga, meditation or deep breathing will help you get out of stress mode.
Avoid drinking anything (including water or alcohol) before bed. While some people find alcohol can help them fall asleep, it can also cause you to wake up in the night once your blood alcohol level drops. Also, filling your bladder before bed is more than likely going to disrupt your sleep too.
Daily exercise for about 20-30 minutes will help you sleep more deeply. Avoid a strenuous workout before sleep as it will have a more energizing effect, rather than getting you ready for sound sleep.
Lastly, if you’ve tried some of these tips already and you are still having a hard time either falling asleep or staying asleep, speak to a naturopath or nutritionist (like us) for some natural ideas to help you have a restorative, restful sleep.