We all know that sleep is a major part of out lives. I mean, I can fall asleep standing up. Just ask my long-suffering wife. But do we know how important it is to our long-term health? Do we give the subject of a proper night’s sleep enough thought?
In today’s blog I’m going to take a look at how important sleep and getting enough of it is. I’m also going to give you some tips on how you get better quality sleep and how to get to sleep in the first place.
Importance of Sleep
So, just how important is sleep?
Well, we all know how it feels after a sleepless night. The struggle to get yourself up and be alert. The negative effect on appetite and that dazed and confused feeling when you try and concentrate.
In 1964 a college student in the USA stayed awake for over 11 days and this wasn’t just because he was partying. He reported that he suffered attacks of paranoia and hallucinations within 2 days.
By day 11 he couldn’t even concentrate on the smallest of tasks including tying his own shoe laces.
We spend 30% of our life asleep so we must be crazy to think that poor quality or lack of sleep won’t affect our health.
As we sleep, various essential processes occur, like our body shutting down to concentrate on repair and growth.
Without the enough sleep these processes aren’t as effective. Tissue repair slows down, our central nervous system won’t recover as well, storage of memories is affected and some hormones don’t act as they should.
We neglect sleep at our peril
Stages of Sleep
Sleep is an extremely complex process and I won’t pretend that I am an expert. Many a professional career has been spent studying it.
I do think however that I should give you a brief overview of the two main stages of sleep.
Non-Rapid Eye Movement (NREM)
This phase can be broken down into further stages but I want to keep it simple!
During this phase the body relaxes, your temperature drops and you lose awareness of your surroundings.
You will move more at this time and so will tend to wake more as well.
After around 90 minutes you will enter:
Rapid Eye Movement (REM)
As you would imagine, during this phase your eyes tend to flicker under your eyelids. It is where the body is the most relaxed, you order and store memories and also when you dream. It is what I would call deep sleep and it can be difficult to wake someone from it.
You spend around 20% of your time in this phase and throughout the night you will skip between NREM and REM phases regularly.
So, let’s now take a look at what can affect our sleep.
This stimulant raises your blood pressure, heart rate and causes that “jittery” feeling. Consuming too much over time will build up a tolerance to it which means, you will need to take more to have the same affect.
We normally drink it to make us feel awake and alert which is covering over the fact that we probably haven’t had enough sleep the night before. A vicious circle!
Caffeine disrupts the natural sleep rhythm of the body and ideally shouldn’t be taken with 6 hours of bedtime.
Around 40mg of caffeine can cause issues. With between 60mg and 80mg in an instant coffee and 160mg in a large energy drink you can see how easy it is to drink too much.
But don’t worry as you can reverse your tolerance to caffeine within a couple of weeks.
Stress and Sleep
We all know what it’s like when you are trying to get off to sleep and all you can think about is work or that money issue you are having.
We just lie there with our eyes open turning the problem over and over in our minds whilst our partner snores away next to us. It can be a major problem for some of us but others will only feel the effects occasionally.
These feelings of stress have a massive impact on our ability to fall asleep or even remain asleep. We are bombarded all the time about how stress has a negative impact on out health. In this case it’s true and so I want to share with you how to manage you sleep routine.
How to Manage your Sleep Routine
As they say, “the devil is in the detail” so let’s look at how you can manage you sleep routine to get the most out of it.
This shouldn’t be overlooked as it has an impact on dropping off to sleep. You should make sure that your bedroom is completely dark when you want to nod off.
You may want to consider black-out blinds or even a face mask. I would consider this as the least you should do if you work shifts and have to sleep during the day.
We also have to look at the use of electronics and the blue light they emit. The blue light that comes from almost all electronics tricks your body-clock into thinking that it’s daytime and we need to get up. This triggers certain hormones to be produced and we find it difficult to sleep.
Turn off all gadgets before you go to bed and also think about banning them from the bedroom altogether!
If you use your computer at night you can also consider the use of an app called F.Lux that automatically dims your screen depending on the time of day.
As you fall asleep, your body temperature lowers, so we can give ourselves a head start by making sure our bedrooms aren’t too hot.
Also, make sure that your duvet isn’t too heavy for the time of year and that you don’t spend too much time in bed before sleeping. Doing things like reading or watching TV raises the temperature of the bed, stopping you from dropping off.
Taking a relaxing bath or shower before bed can work miracles. Not only is it a bit of “you” time where you can order your thoughts but it also helps to lower your body temperature.
Don’t have the water too hot though as this can artificially raise your body temperature, the exact opposite of what you want.
We’ve already looked at the importance of light discipline and how gadgets should be banned from the bedroom.
You should also think about your bedroom as well. Are you the type of person that will get stressed over a pair of socks left on the floor or can you wait until next week to move them?
Is your bed too hard or too soft?
Are the pillows comfortable or the bedding clean?
These are all things that can impact our ability to drop off, so make sure they are sorted before bedtime.
We spend a long time in bed not to be comfortable.
Another great saying is “never go to sleep on an argument” and it is certainly the case here.
Try to ensure that you’re relaxed before bedtime. All arguments should have been resolved and maybe even consider the use of meditation before bed. I know several of my own clients have had success with this.
You should also banish restless partners from the bedroom or even take yourself to the spare room. There is nothing worse than someone next to you rolling around and keeping you awake.
I want to also mention the need to wear loose fitting clothing in bed. It has been suggested that tight clothing can restrict the body’s ability to produce melatonin (sleep hormone) by up to 60%.
Food and Drink
You should stop eating at least a couple of hours before bed as it gives your food a fighting chance to have been digested. If you eat too soon before bedtime, your system is still too busy to produce the sleep and repair hormones that are essential for a great night’s sleep.
Plus, we all know what it’s like to lie in bed with a tummy that is still churning around. Not very relaxing!
Drinking alcohol also has an effect on your quality of sleep. When you drink too much alcohol, the body struggles to reach the deep sleep phase (REM) during the night. That’s why after a few drinks, even though you may have slept 12 hours you could still sleep for another 12.
The deep sleep (REM) is where the magic happens.
So, as you can see there are great many things to consider if you’re having problems with sleep or if you would like to sleep better.
I haven’t even touched upon the need for enough, great sleep when it comes to fat loss but this is an essential element.
Studies have found that those of us that sleep less than 4 hours of sleep per night tend to eat more food during the day and struggle to lose fat.
So, with all this in mind, it’s time to close the lid on your lap top, pull the curtains and get off to sleep.
Be all you can be
P.S. If you have any tips on how you get to sleep then please share them in the comments section below.