Good quality sleep is critical to our survival. Unfortunately, many of us are not getting sufficient quality sleep and this can have profound effects on our physical and psychological health and well-being. Sleep deprivation has been linked to a number of health concerns including decreased immune function, increased risk of cancer and cardiovascular health problems, increased build-up of toxins associated with Alzheimer's disease, and difficulties creating new memories. Inadequate sleep also affects our reproductive system, not to mention the negative impacts it can have on our relationships and our work.
Sleep plays an important role in every system within our body, and what happens when we do sleep is far more sophisticated than simply pressing the pause button on a remote control. Sleep involves a process of regeneration. It serves as a restorative function both physiologically and cognitively. In fact, sleep allows our brain to clear out toxins through what is known as the glymphatic system (similar to the lymphatic system but located within the central nervous system). This system allows waste to flush through and out of our bodies. Furthermore, when we sleep, we shift to our parasympathetic nervous system (also known as our “rest & digest” system). This transition or shift can be very difficult for people suffering from insomnia due to the high level of activity within their limbic system.
You may have noticed that insufficient sleep due to pulling an “all-nighter” or just bad quality sleep (e.g., due to the heat or eating a heavy meal shortly before bed), isn’t too detrimental to your health (though you may notice slower processing and/or moodiness the following day). However, prolonged sleep deprivation can have dramatic effects on our physical and mental health, including increasing the risk of cardiovascular disease, diabetes, motor vehicle accidents, memory problems, weight gain, and depression. Furthermore, sleep can affect our appetite hormones known as ghrelin and leptin, and consequently affect our mood. For example, less sleep can lead to increased hunger and cravings for sugary foods, which may lead to inflammation. Inflammation is linked to depression, and therefore you can see the vicious role that lack of sleep or sleep deprivation may play in our physical and mental well-being. Check out our blog for more information on depression.
Below are some tips to improve your sleep quality:
Limit caffeine consumption (especially after midday), as this can be stimulating to your adrenals and keep you awake at night.
Dim or turn off lights a couple of hours before bed. Your sleep hormone (melatonin) is triggered by darkness and inhibited by light. Therefore, darkness will signal to your body that it is close to bedtime and time to wind down.
Switch off electronics at least 1 hour before bed. Artificial light coming from electronic devices such as televisions, phones, iPads etc., act as an artificial sun, inhibiting the release of melatonin. This stimulates brain activity therefore making you feel awake when it is time to go to sleep. Furthermore, you are more likely to get restless sleep and wake up feeling tired in the morning due to poor quality/insufficient sleep.
Wear blue blocking glasses when the sun starts going down and/or if you must use electronics in the evening. This will help to block the blue light (a short#wavelength with high energy) coming from electronics that are likely to interfere with the secretion of our sleep hormone (melatonin).
Have a wind down routine (e.g., a warm herbal tea, Epsom salt bath, diaphragmatic breathing etc.).
Go to bed at the same time each night and get up at the same time each morning (consistency is important!)
Ensure your room is dark and cool when you go to bed (use curtains or blinds).
Don’t eat too late at night and ensure you do eat a healthy meal. Notice the impact of certain foods on your sleep and mood.
If you do wake during the night, avoid looking at the time as this may createworry and/or frustration, making it harder to fall back to sleep.
Ensure you are moving your body during the day, as this tends to improve our sleep quality. However, avoid strenuous exercise too close to bedtime.
Go outside and get some sunlight first thing when you wake. This helps signal to our body that it is time to wake up and can help us feel more alert.
Mindfulness is the next best thing, especially for people suffering from insomnia.