Sleep is one of the most beneficial things that you can do each day to improve your overall health and quality of life – you probably already do it and its completely free!
Despite the overwhelming benefits of a quality sleep a staggeringly high percentage of people regularly find themselves deprived which puts them at greater risk of developing disease, mental health problems and can lead to early death.
So, what are the benefits of sleep?
Sleep is essential to general health. Without enough sleep the brain cannot function properly which will affect your ability to concentrate, think clearly, process memories and react to danger. In fact every major system, tissue and organ of your body benefits from sufficient sleep and will absolutely suffer from a lack of it. Here are just a few of the ways that sleep affects function and health.
- Cognitive function, creativity, mood, problem solving and work capacity improve with quality sleep. Sleep more and get more done in less time with less effort. Sounds good? Read on…
- Obesity – People who sleep less than 7 hours are 30% more likely to be obese.
- Alzheimer’s – Too little sleep significantly increases rick of Alzheimer’s. Promisingly, improving sleep reduces the risk or at least delays onset.
- Cardiovascular system – Adults over 45 years of age sleeping fewer that 6 hours a night are 200% more likely to have a heart attack or stroke during their life than those who sleep 7-8 hours.
- Immune function – you are 4.5 x more likely to develop influenza if you sleep less than 5 hours compared to 7. Antibody response to Vaccines is also increased with sufficient sleep.
- Inflammation – affects our central nervous system (CNS) – linked to stress response. Short or disturbed sleep activates inflammatory pathways and can cause chronic inflammation. Affecting obesity, heart disease, cancer, Alzheimer’s, depression and Type 2 diabetes.
- Pain – Sleep loss increases sensitivity of pain pathways making us more sensitive to unpleasant stimuli. So if you are injured or in pain make sleep your number 1 priority.
- Emotions and social interactions – lack of sleep is directly linked to depression and low mood. Improving sleep improves mood, ability to respond to humour, improves quality of relationships and ability to express empathy.
How much is enough?
Sleep demand changes as we age, the National Sleep Foundation recommends the following.
|65 and up
|7 to 8 hours
|18 to 64 years old
|7 to 9 hours
|14 to 17 years old
|8 to 10 hours
|6 to 13 years old
|9 to 11 hours
For adults at least 7 hours of sleep is the minimum required in order to carry out normal cognitive and behavioural functions. However, this is 7 hours of SLEEP – NOT 7 hours in bed. So, if it takes you half an hour to fall asleep and half an hour to get up, then you need to add at least an hour to this and more for every time you wake in the night.
But I function just fine on less than that…..
No. Sorry, you probably don’t! Some people, to some extent, can develop a tolerance to chronic sleep deprivation. Despite their brain and body functioning below par they may not be aware of their deficiencies because it feels normal to them. These people just like any other sleep deprived individual are at higher risk of developing Type 2 diabetes, obesity, high blood pressure, stroke, poor mental health and early death.
Ways to improve sleep length and quality?
- Create a good sleep environment
Dim the lights and keep the room cool
Get comfortable, invest in comfortable mattress sheet, pillows etc. After all you will be spending a third of your life there.
- Go to sleep and wake up at the same time every day (yes at weekends too)
By changing your sleep and wake times you are essentially voluntarily giving yourself jet lag.
- Create a bedtime routine and wind down time
Turn of blue light screens (tv, phones, computers) before you go to bed. Exposure to this kind of light tricks your body into thinking it is daytime and keeps you awake.
Meditate, relaxation and mindfulness all help.
- Cut caffeine, alcohol and large meals close to bedtime.
These all affect your natural sleep pattern. You may feel that alcohol helps you to sleep but while you are out your body will be busy processing alcohol and until that has all gone you will not be reaping the benefits of true sleep.
- Exercise during the daytime and not too close to bed – preferably outside.
This will help you to relax later and wind down for bed.
Stimulate your circadian rhythm by exposing yourself to bright day light in the morning.
If you attempt to implement all of these at once it may be a little overwhelming and unrealistic. Try starting with one or two, when you have established a good routine then try adding more, it’s much easier that way. Tip – start with the lowest hanging fruit and go from there.