✦ In these tumultuous times of difference and division there’s one thing it’s safe to say we can all agree on – there’s nothing quite like a good sleep!
The benefits and importance of getting enough sleep cannot be understated, both duration and quality wise. Many of us lead stressful, hectic lifestyles which can take its toll on our well-being. Demands at work, at home and in our personal lives can leave us feeling mentally and physically exhausted at the end of each day.
It is therefore imperative that we give our bodies the requisite rest required in order for us to function efficiently and, most importantly, healthily – getting a good night’s sleep is as crucial to our well-being as a balanced, nutritious diet and a regular exercise regime. Conversely, sleep deprivation can cause a range of serious health risks including hypertension, diabetes, obesity, depression, heart attack and stroke.
The amount of recommended sleep we require differs, of course, based on age and a myriad of factors, although the National Sleep Foundation guidelines stipulate between 7-9 hours a night for adults over the age of 18. In Australia, whereas over 50% of adults claim they get the recommended amount per night, there are still over 30% that don’t, a study by YouGov found. Worryingly, 2% of those polled stated they get less than 2 hours a night.
So why is it so important that medical experts recommend we spend roughly a third of each day asleep?
First and foremost, getting the right amount of sleep per night helps our learning and memory functions, boosting our focus and concentration levels to enable us to be more alert and therefore more efficient in our day-to-day lives. Our whirring brains are constantly on the go, processing a deluge of thoughts and information in a continual blur. Of course, the brain still operates while we are asleep but ‘switching off’ allows it sufficient time to rest and re-group, ready for the day ahead. We can then make better decisions and solve problems in a more coherent manner, be it at home, work or elsewhere.
Similarly, sufficient sleep helps promote a more up-beat mood which will improve our relations and interactions with others. We all know what it’s like when we haven’t had enough sleep as we crawl in a zombie like state through the day in a cranky mood where the slightest thing can set us off and lead to emotional outbursts. Widespread studies have shown that a chronic lack of sleep is more likely to develop depression and increase the odds of anxiety or panic disorders. While we are sleeping our brain has chance to process, recognise and react to our emotions. We all agree that a good mood trumps a bad mood hands down and a good old slumber can help ensure this.
Watch your weight
Whereas it has always been accepted as fact that a nutritious and balanced diet and robust exercise regime are the cornerstone of maintaining a healthy weight, sleep also plays a key part. A 2020 analysis published by the National Center for Biotechnology Information found that adults who slept fewer than 7 hours per night had a whopping 41% increased risk of developing obesity. Put simply, when you’re well rested you’re less hungry. The hormones in our brain that control our appetite are known as leptin (which makes us feel full) and ghrelin (which makes us feel hungry). When we suffer insufficient sleep, ghrelin levels increase and leptin decreases. It doesn’t take a neuro-surgeon to figure out the consequences of that!
Similarly, for those amongst us of an athletic persuasion, sleep is imperative in assisting with muscle repair and boosting energy levels to ensure we can perform at our optimal best. Lack of sleep, and thus an absence of energy, will often leave us feeling demotivated and unlikely to hit the gym or pursue whichever exercise we prefer. Likewise, it can also contribute to injury as our muscles haven’t had sufficient time or opportunity to repair and regenerate. Just as an unhealthy diet undermines any potential benefits of exercise, so does a a lack of sleep and as such it should be considered as an equally important pillar in any fitness regime.
The benefits of a good sleep on our hearts cannot be underestimated. It may be stating the obvious but when we are resting in a sleeping state, our levels of exertion decrease dramatically. As a result our blood pressure goes down which affords our heart and blood vessels a time out. A study by the National Center for Biotechnology Information showed that people who slept fewer than 5 hours per night had a 61% higher risk of developing high blood pressure than those who slept 7 hours. We all know how the stresses of everyday life can lead to higher blood pressure levels which in turn leads to all manner of health risks including heart disease and stroke. The benefits of a good night’s sleep in this regard are, therefore, obvious for all to see.
Likewise, sleep plays a vital role in maintaining healthy blood sugar levels and a lack of can lead to increased glucose intolerance which heightens the risk of developing type 2 diabetes. The relationship between sleep and blood sugar is a complex one, detailed well in a report by the Sleep Foundation, but it is clear that getting enough zzz’s helps manage the potentially dangerous health condition.
So, we now know the principal benefits of getting enough sleep. However, it can be easier said than done and switching off at the end of a busy day often isn’t as straight forward as it seems. Thankfully there are numerous resources and websites providing tips on how best to get a good night’s rest, which are easy to access and adapt; ensuring your room is dark at night, absent of any form of intrusive light while set at the right temperature is a key factor, as is investing in a comfortable bed, mattress and pillows – you need to be comfortable to be relaxed to achieve a good rest, after all!
Try not to drink caffeine or alcohol too close to bedtime, both of which can deter a good night’s rest. Likewise, whereas exercise is of course good and encouraged, try not to do so too late at night or prior to your bedtime. Detach from technology by shutting down your work emails and limiting your time on your phone or tablet, especially before bed, as such devices emit blue light which stimulates your brain and fools it into thinking it’s daytime – not great as you’re attempting to settle down for a good sleep!
Take a nice hot bath or shower, maybe indulge in a spot of meditation or a similar pursuit to calm and clear the mind. Reading a book (NOT a phone, iPad or similar device!) is a great way to distract and calm your mind before sleep, as is snoozing off to relaxing music or white noise, available nowadays through a wide range of apps. If all else fails, you could turn to the tried and tested measure of counting sheep to help take you into slumberland!
However, as the age-old saying goes, ‘too much of a good thing’ is a logic that also applies to sleep whereby an over-indulgence can prove counterproductive - medical studies have shown people that slept too much endured calcium buildups in heart arteries and less flexibility in leg arteries. So, like everything, it’s about striking a balance and aiming for 7-9 hours a night should place you on the right track to reaping the benefits of a good night’s shut-eye.
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