Did you leap out of bed this morning, refreshed and eager to start your day? No, not so much? Well you’re not alone. Statistics around quality sleep are tricky to find, simply because they are not straight forward to define. But after doing a poll around the office, friends and family, it is pretty clear that too many of us aren’t getting either enough, or good enough quality sleep.
And this is pretty serious. Not only will lack of sleep have you leaning toward propping yourself up with coffee, sugary snacks and other stimulants which all carry their own health risks, but it affects your ability to concentrate and recall information (hello foggy brain!), reduces your immune function, increases the risk of accidents, impacts your appearance and can make you down right unpleasant to be around. So I think we can all agree that sleep is important for our physical, emotional, mental and social health.
The amount of sleep each person requires will vary, typically somewhere between 7-9 hours per night. As mentioned earlier, it’s not just about quantity, but also about quality; ideally your slumber time should be undisturbed for optimal benefits.
What happens when we sleep?
Far from being a time simply to rest, your body is actually very busy during sleep; here’s a snapshot of what your sub-conscious body gets up to while you slumber:
• Processing, filtering and consolidation of information from each day
• Strengthening our memory
• Neurotransmitters (messengers in our brain) levels are replenished
• Serotonin and dopamine (feel good chemicals) levels replenished
• Repairing muscles and tissues
• Boosting our immune system
• Building up our energy reserves for the next day
To carry out all of this activity we need to move through light, slow wave (Non-REM) and Rapid Eye Movement (REM) sleep. Each of these phases provides a unique health benefit to body and mind. A healthy sleeper – who has allowed themselves eight or nine hours sleep – will move through these phases three or four times in a night. But many of us are missing out because we only get six hours a night or have difficulty falling asleep in the first place. Others wake up during the night – and during a sleep phase – and struggle to get back to sleep.
Stages of sleep:
• STAGE 1 – This is called light sleep and is our initial entry into sleep.
• STAGE 2 – Occurs with sleep onset when you become disengaged from the environment, breathing and heart rate are regular and body temperature is decreasing.
• STAGES 3 & 4 – Also known as slow wave or deep sleep, and are the deepest stages of sleep when we experience the most restorative sleep. Muscles are completely relaxed, blood pressure drops and breathing slows. During these stages of sleep, blood supply to the muscles is increased, energy is restored, tissue is repaired and growth hormone production takes place.
• Rapid-eye movement or REM sleep – Occurs increasingly over the latter part of the night and is necessary for providing energy to our brain and our body. During REM our brains are active and dreaming occurs. REM sleep contributes to learning and memory consolidation.
• Non- REM sleep accounts for 75% of sleep time.
• REM sleep accounts for 25% of sleep time.
Fortunately there are many simple things you can do to help optimise your sleep patterns; one big thing that is having a negative impact in modern households is the overuse of technology. The blue wave light that mobile phones, tablets, TVs, computers and other electronic devices emit can interfere with the body’s ability to produced melatonin – the natural sleep hormone. Reducing screen time at least half an hour before bed should be part of everyone’s healthy sleep routine. Here’s a list of 10 good habits to adopt to improve your sleep each night:
10 Good habits to adopt
1. Go to bed around the same time each night – ideally by 10pm
2. Aim for 7.5 – 9 hours of sleep each night
3. Switch off blue light emitting devices at least 30 minutes before bed
4. Clear your mind, write down any important tasks for the next day
5. Start to unwind 30 minutes before bed by doing some gentle stretching, taking a warm shower or even meditating for 5 minutes
6. Keep the TV, computer, arguments and discussions about finances out of the bedroom
7. Make sure your bedroom is a comfortable temperature
8. Remove all distracting light and noise e.g. loud ticking or brightly lit clocks
9. Take a few deep, cleansing breaths as you lie down and close your eyes
10. Consider a high quality magnesium supplement to support natural relaxation, take this about 30 minutes before bed
Don’t forget to cut back or eliminate stimulants such as caffeine, cigarettes, alcohol, sugar and heavy meals too. Once you have established a sleep routine that works for you, you will find sleep becomes easier and more restful and you will begin to enjoy all the health benefits a great quality sleep provides.