Sleep your way to better health

Sounds too good to be true right? I mean, how important is sleep really?

who needs sleep

The need for adequate shut-eye is universal, none of us can live without it. Sure, there are a few that may get by on a little less than the rest of us for a while, but it always catches up with them.  While we like to pretend that we don’t have enough time to do everything we have/ want to do each day and get to bed at a reasonable time, the truth is that we just don’t prioritise sleep. Instead of looking at our lives and trying to improve the amount and quality of our sleep, we push ourselves harder and further like being tired is something to be admired, regardless of how it adversely affects our mood, memory, ability to learn, appetite, immune function, creativity, mental wellbeing and more.

Why do we sleep?

While no one is really cracked the full mystery of why we need to sleep, there are 3 theories that go a long way to giving an explanation.

1. Energy conservation. This suggests that it’s a way of lowering the metabolic cost of our day to day lives, reducing the energy demand and need for high caloric intake.

2. Restorative theory. This says that sleep is the bodies opportunity to restore resources used through the day.

3. The brain plasticity theory. This theory says sleep is the period where the brain develops and performs maintenance on itself.

While we may never know why sleep is necessary, these 3 habits interlink to protect the brain, and at the end of the day, the brain looks out for number 1!

Sleep and health

From a health standpoint, sleep is vital for the well-being of our brains and bodies. Lack of sleep has major implications on many areas of our lives.

For example:

  • a Russian study highlighted that 63% of men who had a heart attack also suffered from a sleep disorder. The risk of a stroke was also doubled.
  • a study from Norway showed a higher risk of car crashes in those with sleep disorders.
  • an Australian study into cognitive impairment showed that after being awake 17-19 hours, your mental abilities were comparable to having a blood alcohol level of 0.05% (the equivalent of being legally over the drink drive limit here in Scotland).

When it comes to fat loss, lack of sleep can derail your best attempts at dropping inches. The Mayo Clinic ran a study showing that lack of adequate sleep

The Mayo Clinic ran a study showing that lack of adequate sleep leads to an increase in calorie intake of around 500kcals per day. This may be down to less sleep leading to an increase in the hormone ghrelin, which controls appetite, and a reduction in the hormone leptin, which regulates satiety.

Therefore you not only want to eat more food when you’re tired, but you find it harder to feel satisfied when you do. Hence my tendency to resort to caffeine and calories on days after I haven’t slept particularly well…

How to get a better nights sleep

Getting a better night’s sleep has a lot to do with individual routines. What works well for me may not work as well for you. However, there are a few key principles that work for everyone.

  1. Make your bedroom as dark as possible. Less light increases melatonin levels which increase feelings of sleepiness. Instead of having the main room lights on when you are getting ready for bed, try having dimmer side lights on instead.
  2. Minimise blue light exposure in the hours leading up to your bedtime. This is the type of light emitted by your laptop, tablet, TV and phones. It mimics daylight and reduces the production of melatonin. Many tablets, phone and laptops have a night time mode which automatically dims the blue out of the screen (making it look redder or more yellow).  alternatively, you can try f.lux which you can install on your device to reduce the blue light.
  3. Keep your bedroom temp to around 15-18C (60-65F). Cooler temperatures help you start to feel a little drowsy, making sleep easier to find.
  4. Limit caffeine within 5-6 hours before your planned bedtime. Caffeine can stay in your system up to 6 hours, making it harder to fall asleep.

The rest is down to you experimenting a little to see what works best for your pre-bed routine. Here are a few things you can try incorporating into your bedtime routine.

  • brain dump – write down all the things rattling around your brain. This signals that your brain doesn’t need to remember them all, and you can deal with them (or not) tomorrow.
  • meditation. Taking a few minutes to switch off, concentrate on your breathing and relax.
  • gratitude journal. This has been shown time and again to improve the ability to be done with the day and improve sleep quality.
  • leave your technology in another room. If you can’t, then switch to aeroplane mode.
  • read for 10-15 minutes before you go to sleep.

Finally, in order to sleep longer and better, you actually need to go to bed at a reasonable time. You can’t be asleep longer if you spend less time in bed…Your challenge for tonight, should you choose to accept it, is to get to bed 10 minutes earlier than you normally would.

Do it, you’ll thank me for it!

Dave

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