In such a busy world, we often forget that our own health is the most important thing we need to look after. Although we take time to regularly recharge our electronic devices to ensure optimal functioning, we often neglect to do the same for ourselves. Sleep is an important time for our bodies to recharge and repair and is foundational for our holistic health maintenance.
Chronic sleep conditions can affect our physical, mental, social and financial health. A 2019 study published in Healthcare describes insufficient sleep as a pervasive and prominent problem in the modern 24-hour society and that there is a considerable body of evidence suggesting that poor sleep can cause a host of adverse medical and mental dysfunctions.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends between seven to nine hours of quality sleep per night for the average adult, but has determined that despite these recommendations, roughly 35 percent of adults reported chronic sleep deficiency.
In addition, the CDC notes that those who suffer regular sleep insufficiency are more likely to have chronic conditions such as cardiovascular disease, diabetes, depression or obesity.
Not getting enough sleep can also have a direct effect on your immune system, as the body performs important functions during sleep which allows it to stave off infections and reduce recovery time after illness or injury, according to expert advice from the Mayo Clinic. Although the body needs sleep to fight infectious diseases, the advice also notes that too much sleep is not ideal and that sleeping for more than nine or ten hours can be detrimental to adults.
Australia’s Queensland State Government has created a useful list of some of the important things that happen while you sleep.
- Your mind processes all the things you learned during the day. It takes this time to sift through all the ‘files’ you stored in your brain and sort them for easy access when you need them.
- Your body releases hormones, including a growth hormone from your pituitary gland, to help grow and repair your body. In this sense, sleep is vital for athletes, infants and young people.
- Your sympathetic nervous system slows down. This means your fight and flight reactions take a back seat and you get a chance to truly relax.
- Your cortisol levels dial down. Cortisol is also known as our body’s stress hormone, preparing you to fight or flee your stressor. As you fall into your slumber, your body curbs your cortisol secretion for a few hours, only to pick it back up before you wake up.
- Your muscles become paralysed. During rapid eye movement (REM) sleep, you have the most vivid dreams, and it is at this time that your muscles become paralysed. Scientists postulate that this is an evolutionary ploy to help us not act out our (sometimes wild) dreams.
- An anti-diuretic hormone (ADH) helps limit the need to use the bathroom. Our brains secrete more ADH at night to help reduce the need to disturb sleep due to having a full bladder.
LiveWell’s Chief Product and Proposition Officer, Dr Sally Phillips, notes that good sleep hygiene is vital for ensuring good quality and enough sleep. She suggests following some good pointers to improve your sleep provided by the CDC:
- Find a routine. Make sure you go to bed at the same time every night and wake the same time each morning. This includes weekends, for consistency.
- Ensure your bedroom is comfortable, dark and at a temperature that helps you to relax.
- Avoid eating anything heavy, high in sugar or caffeine shortly before bed.
- Remove or turn off any tech devices and make sure they won’t disturb you.
- Get some exercise during the day as this has been found to help falling asleep easier.
It’s important to consider that getting your sleep patterns improved is just one aspect of improving your overall health. Enjoying a balanced diet, exercising regularly, connecting with friends and loved ones, and mindfulness practises that promote a healthy state of mind are all preventative actions we can take to look after our health.
It’s time to commit to yourself – a good place to start is ensuring you get a good night’s sleep!