Sleep is for wimps, right? WRONG!

Woman on laptop relaxed on bed with her dog

You have so many demands on your time that to fit everything in, it is not unusual to sacrifice sleep. Yet a good night’s sleep goes way beyond just boosting your mood or getting rid of the dark circles beneath your eyes. It’s vital for your wellbeing and has been scientifically proven to sit at the heart of a healthy, happy life.  Your body needs a good night’s sleep, just like it needs air and food to function at its best.

Why do I need a good night’s sleep?

On average humans spend nearly a 1/3rd of their life asleep. (Although it’s estimated that a staggering 2/3rds of the world just aren’t getting the sleep they need). During sleep your body heals itself and restores its chemical balance. Your brain creates new connections and helps memory retention.  Sleep helps you think more clearly, have quicker reflexes and focus better. It improves decreases stress, sparks creativity and even helps maintain a healthy weight and emotional stability!

Without enough sleep, your brain and body systems won’t function normally. Yawning, excessive sleepiness, irritability and daytime fatigue are all signs of sleep deprivation.  No amount of caffeine can override your body’s profound need for a good night’s sleep. It may feel ok for a while but going without sleep can quickly lead to hallucinations. Over time this will increase your risk of chronic diseases like diabetes and heart disease.


The stages of sleeping

Whilst scientists don’t know exactly why we sleep , they do know how it works. Basically there are 5 stages of sleep. Stage 1 stage 2 stage 3, stage 4 and REM (Rapid Eye Movement Sleep). These stages progress cyclically from 1 through REM then again to 1. Non REM sleep (stages 1 to 4 ) is a dreamless sleep. Your breathing and heart rate are slow and regular, blood pressure is low and you are relatively still. During REM sleep, your heart rate and breathing quickens. You can have intense dreams as you brain is more active. Waking may occur after REM sleep and if it is for long enough, you may well remember it.

Typically, you go through 4 to 5 sleep cycles a night with the first one taking about 90 minutes and the rest about 100 to 120 minutes. However the amount of time you spend in each stage also depends on your age. Infants can spend 50% of their time in REM sleep vs 20% for adults which decreases as you get older.

Top tips for better night’s sleep

You may not be able to control the factors that can interfere with your sleep like stress or illness. However you can definitely adopt habits that encourage a better sleep experience.

  1. Keeping in sync with your body’s natural sleep cycle is one of the best ways to help you sleep better. Set your body’s internal clock by going to bed and getting up at the same time every day. This is because keeping a regular sleep-wake schedule will help you feel more refreshed and energised than if you sleep the same hours every night but at different times.
  2. Controlling your exposure to light helps to regulate the levels of melatonin. This is the naturally occurring hormone that is secreted when it’s dark and helps make you sleepy.  Spending more time exposed to light early on in the morning and during the day is key. Then eliminating bright screens and back lit devices before bed will keep levels in check.
  3. Timing your exercise right and avoid vigorous workouts at least 3 hours before bedtime. Exercise speeds up your metabolism, elevates body temperature and stimulates hormones such as cortisol. As a result exercising too close to bed can interfere with a good night’s sleep.
  4. Build better food and drink habits. Limit stimulants like caffeine & nicotine throughout the day and avoid heavy meals and alcohol late at night.
  5. Create a better sleep environment by keeping noise down and a ensuring your room is cool and well ventilated. Experiment with mattress toppers or pillows to get the best level of support. Establish a regular cleaning schedule to eliminate the dirt and allergens that you cannot see that have built up in your mattress and bedding over time. This means they can no longer be breathed in.