Long before the emergence of Covid19 enjoying adequate sleep was an issue for many people. As a society we are sleeping less, a lot less. The time we sleep each night has reduced from 9 hours to 7.5 hours since the 1900s.
Right now prioritising sleep is an important tool we can use to support our mental and emotional health. In this article we look at why sleep is important for our health and offer tips on getting more, better quality sleep.
Sleep and stress
It is important to highlight that being sleep deprived can add to our daily sense of overwhelm and reduce our resilience to stress. Unfortunately, stress and lack of sleep can become a vicious cycle. The less sleep you have, the less able you are to cope physically and emotionally with the demands of life. This then makes it harder to get a good night’s sleep and you can feel trapped in this never-ending cycle.
Why is it so important?
Sleep is important for your health because it gives your body time to recharge its batteries and repair cells. Getting good amounts of good-quality sleep is crucial (aim for seven and a half to to eight hours uninterrupted sleep every night). When you don’t get enough or good quality sleep you can feel irritable, with poor concentration and, of course, tired. The benefits of good sleeping habits are more than just old wives tales – they’re well documented. Good quality sleep has been proven to provide countless benefits to daily life – including a strengthened immune system, increased memory, a trimmer waistline and improved reaction time.
Inadequate sleep lowers our immune response. Research has shown that missing even a few hours a night on a regular basis can decrease the number of ‘natural killer cells’, which are responsible for fighting off invaders such as bacteria and viruses. This will come as no surprise to those of us who succumb to colds and other illnesses when we are run down and underslept. Prioritising good quality sleep will prime your immune responses and support recovery from infection.
Other research shows that those who get six hours or less a night are twice as likely to suffer from hypertension (high blood pressure) and heart disease as those who sleep for seven hours or more. Sleeping better may also help you fight off infection. People who don’t sleep well often have raised levels of stress hormones and a decrease in immune function as mentioned above, all these factors impact on longevity.
People who are sleep deprived have an increased appetite. Inadequate sleep lowers levels of leptin, a hormone that suppresses appetite, and increases ghrelin. This is a hormone that increases food intake and is thought to play a role in long-term regulation of body weight. All this suggests that sleep deprivation can make weight loss extremely difficult because it causes your body to work against you!
Several studies have found that those who slept less than six hours a night gained more weight over time than those who slept for 7+ hours a night. The researchers found that levels of exercise did not interfere with the results. If you are concerned about weight gain whilst being cooped up at home during Covid19, prioritising your sleep may help curb your appetite and reduce cravings.
Good sleep makes you a nicer person
The most potent effects of sleep deprivation are on behaviour. Lack of sleep will make you cranky, aggressive, forgetful and unsociable. Taken to extremes, severe deprivation causes depression, disorientation and paranoia. Adopting a healthy pattern during the Corona virus pandemic can support your mental resilience, optimism and patience. This is also true for the teenagers in the house.
The role of food and drink
Foods and drinks that have a stimulant effect usually containing caffeine (e.g. tea, coffee, colas and chocolate) are going to make it more difficult for you to be able to switch off. The effect will be to rev you up when you want your body to calm down ready to switch off for the night. Typically caffeine has a half-life of 6 hours, meaning that 6 hours after a cup of tea or coffee half of the caffeine will still be in your blood stream inhibiting deep sleep. If you are very sensitive, then you may find that you can’t even drink de-caffeinated coffee as there are other stimulants still left in the coffee even though the caffeine has been removed.
- Aim to avoid caffeine after midday to support good quality slumber
- Switch your black tea for naturally caffeine free Rooiboos tea or a herbal
- Have a cup of chamomile tea before bed to encourage relaxation.
Maintain a healthy eating pattern
Your pattern of eating during the day is also important. Make sure that you are little and often to keep your blood sugar steady. This prevents the release of adrenaline. In turn this makes sure that the hormone cortisol, the other stress hormone, starts to wind down when you go to bed.
- Eat little and often and avoid going longer than 4 hours without eating.
- Combine protein with complex carbohydrates to stabilise your blood sugar.
- Avoid alcohol as it blocks the transport of tryptophan into the brain.
Introduce a bedtime snack
If you regularly wake in the middle of the night, especially if it’s suddenly and your head is racing, have a small snack of complex carbohydrates, such as an oatcake or small slice of rye bread, about an hour before bed. This will prevent your blood sugar levels from dropping during the night.
Taking a supplement containing a number of relaxing, calming nutrients can be especially helpful. If you would like to talk to use about safe supplementation or nutritional support for insomnia, call us on 01 4020777 or book online now.