The Importance of Sleep and Tips to Help You Sleep Better

A woman lying in bed with a sheet covering her, her arms outstretched while her hands are pointed in towards her face.

We all know that sleep deprivation can cause damage to your body in the short-term. We feel the effects almost instantly, with yawning, lack of concentration, headaches, fatigue, and moodiness all being common symptoms. But what about the long-term?

Over time, sleep deprivation can be extremely harmful to your health. It can lead to chronic health problems and can negatively impact your quality of life. Just as you need to breathe and eat, you need to sleep.

When you’re deprived of sleep long enough, your body’s defenses can be lowered. Chronic sleep deprivation can interfere with balance, coordination, and decision-making abilities, can put you at risk of an accident, and can leave the brain exhausted and unable to perform its duties.

In short, sleep deprivation is dangerous to your mental and physical health, and can dramatically lower your quality of life by interrupting the following bodily functions.

Central nervous system

Your central nervous system is the information highway of your body and sleep is necessary for it to function properly. During sleep, the brain rests busy neurons and forms new pathways so you are ready to face the world in the morning. Your body also produces proteins that help cells repair damage, and for children and young adults, sleep releases growth hormones that are crucial for development.

Immune system

When you’re sleeping, your immune system produces protective cytokines and infection-fighting antibodies and cells. It uses these tools to fight off foreign substances like bacteria and viruses, and gives the immune system the energy to fight against illness. Without sleep, it’s more likely that your body won’t be able to fend off these invaders, resulting in a long recovery.

Digestive system

According to Harvard Medical School, there’s a link between lack of sleep and weight gain. Sleep deprivation increases production of the stress hormone cortisol, while lowering levels of a hormone called leptin, affecting your brain’s ability to know when to stop eating. In addition, it raises levels of a biochemical called ghrelin, which acts as an appetite stimulant. 

Cardiovascular system

Sleep plays a vital role in your body’s ability to heal and repair your blood vessels and heart. Without appropriate sleep, you run the risk of chronic health conditions such as high blood pressure, heart disease, and stroke. According to one study, for people with hypertension, one night without enough sleep can cause elevated blood pressure all through the next day.

Bone health

Sleep deprivation can have an impact on how bones repair themselves, and as everyday activities cause normal wear and tear, sleep is crucial to bone health. Sleep deprivation impacts remodeling, leading to decreased bone density and a higher risk of osteoporosis.   

Skin cells

Sleep may be the closest thing there is to a fountain of youth, with sleep being the time when your body repairs itself. Getting enough rest leads to fewer wrinkles, a glowing complexion, brighter eyes, better hydration, and healthier and fuller hair, and can defend against harmful free radicals.

As you can see, sleep is the ticket to good health.

How much sleep should you have?

Many people believe they can function well on four to six hours of sleep, but research tells us that fewer than six hours sleep per day can be damaging to health. According to the Sleep Health Foundation the recommended amount of sleep per day for adults 26-64 years is between seven and nine hours. Children and teenagers will need more than this, while older adults can get away with slightly less.

Tips for getting more sleep

If you find you are regularly getting less sleep than the recommended amount, it’s important to make some changes. Ways to improve your sleep patterns include:

  • Eating at least four hours before bed and choosing nutrient-dense ingredients that will keep you feeling satisfied.
  • Avoiding sugar, caffeine, and refined carbohydrates, especially at the end of the day.
  • Increasing healthy fat consumption, especially sources of omega-3 essential fatty acids found in sources such as cold-water fish, avocado, and pasture-raised meat and eggs.
  • Lowering your intake of grains.
  • Taking a magnesium supplement, well known for relieving insomnia.
  • Avoiding blue light from screens such as mobile phones and computers for at least 1-2 hours before bed.
  • Maintaining a regular bedtime and wake time, even on weekends. The optimal bedtime is between 10:30 and 11:00pm, when your body’s sleeping hormone peaks.
  • Get naked. Being too warm at night disrupts the natural release of melatonin and growth hormones, and sleeping naked allows your body to regulate its temperature naturally.
  • Exercise each day for at least 30 minutes, but avoid exercise four hours before bed.
  • Limit alcohol intake, as when alcohol starts to wear off, your body lifts from a deep sleep into REM sleep.
  • Avoid anything stressful in the evening. Don’t choose just before bed to go through your finances, and avoid looking at your to-do list.
  • Practice meditation. Yin yoga is fantastic for those that lead a high-energy life and find it difficult to wind down.
  • Aim for contentment. If you dramatically alter your life in a bid to get better sleep, your fear of not being able to sleep will be more harmful than good.
  • Create a haven that’s cool, dark, quiet and uncluttered. The recommended temperature for your bedroom is 16-18C, and blackout blinds are a sensible investment.
  • Avoid working in your bedroom. Your bedroom should only be associated with relaxation and sleep.
  • Buy a good quality bed. The kind of mattress you lie on is crucial for maximising comfort and deep sleep. Latex mattresses are the most recommended for comfort and restful sleep.
  • Find the right pillow. Consider how big you are and how you like to lie. Chiropractors recommend a contoured latex pillow to offer maximum support for your neck.
  • Tap into your circadian rhythm and let it guide your sleeping patterns. Base your bedtime on when you naturally feel tired and adjust your wake time to when your body naturally wakes. Just don’t be late for work!
  • Start a sleep diary to uncover bad habits you might not be aware of.
  • Follow the “20-minute rule”. If you’re not asleep in 20 minutes, get up, do something relaxing for ten minutes, and then try again. Don’t lay tossing and turning or you’ll be restless for hours.
  • Consider alternative therapies, such as acupuncture and massage.
  • Look for underlying medical issues, such as depression, thyroid dysfunction, and hormone imbalance. 

The bottom line is that if you want better health, you’ve got to aim for better sleep. Sleep is the key to quality of life, so if you find you’re not getting enough of it, make some of the above changes today.

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