Do not underestimate the importance of a good night’s sleep!
As the party season ends, one of the things we most likely compromised on is our sleep. Furthermore, as the New Year’s resolutions kick in, many of us commit to waking earlier irrespective of what time we go to bed. I, myself, used to believe that sleeping less was key to achieving more each day, the age-old “you can sleep when you are dead”.
But increasing research is being done on the importance of a good night’s sleep and the conclusion is clear: a full night of good quality sleep is absolutely essential for our mind, body and spirit in every imaginable way.
In the book “Why we sleep”, neuro-scientist and sleep psychologist, Matthew Walker, explains why we need a full 8 hours. People who periodically have less, may adapt to “sleep deprivation” but studies show that their mental alertness and performance will increasingly diminish irrespective of how they feel. This is why top performers in any field, are encouraged to get a full night’s sleep; to increase the productivity of their day rather than the number of hours. And unfortunately, you cannot make up for lost sleep!
Science-backed benefits of a good night’s sleep:
Aside from the importance for mental alertness and physical performance, a full night’s sleep restores the immune system (critical for any kind of healing), balances hormone levels (for weight loss amongst others), lowers blood pressure and cleanses toxins from the body and brain. Science has now demonstrated powerful links between sleep loss and Alzheimer’s disease, diabetes, obesity and cancer. Even stress, anxiety and anger improve with sleep, as does our ability to make sense of our experiences and balance our emotions. As Walker says, we wonder whether there are any biological functions that do not benefit from a good night’s sleep.
How to improve your quality, consistency and length of sleep:
Routine – Sticking to the same bedtime and wake up time (including weekends), helps regulate your circadian rhythm, helping you fall asleep and stay asleep. Follow the sun cycle and get exposure to direct sunlight within 30mins of waking. If you are struggling to establish a new routine, temporary use of supplements like melatonin or valerian root can help you get to sleep on time (please consult your doctor before first).
Sleep hygiene – Studies have shown that to optimise sleep, we should limit blue light exposure (i.e. iPads, TV, smart phones) for at least an hour before bed, sleep on a relatively light stomach (no food 2 hours before bed) in a cool, quiet, dark room (use earplugs, eye-mask or black-out blinds as required and make the temperature 1 – 2 degrees C cooler at night). Though exercise can promote healthy sleep, try not to do it in the evening. Avoid stressful activities (such as working on your lap top) in bed and sleep in the same room each night; research shows that you don’t always fall fully asleep if you are not familiar with your surroundings!
Bedtime ritual – My favourite, Optimism Doctor, Dr Deepika Chopra, advocates creating rituals to cultivate good habits. A relaxing, routine activity right before bedtime helps separate sleep time from activities that can cause excitement, stress or anxiety, and signals to your body and brain that it is time to prepare for sleep. I love to read with a warm cup of herbal tea and then meditate with a little gratitude exercise before falling asleep. It is also helpful to write a journal or “to do” list so you can sleep with a clear, calm mind.
Kill the afternoon coffee: caffeine has a half-life of around 6 hours so if you drink a cup at noon, by midnight there is still around 25% of that caffeine in your system! Similarly, though a glass of alcohol in the evening may seem to help you fall sleep, it actually compromises the quality of your sleep; preventing beneficial restorative sleep.
Take a nap: A 1995 NASA study found that a “26-minute nap improved performance by 34% and alertness by 54% without disrupting the usual night-time sleep cycle.
Sweet dreams everyone!
In our New Year Series, Health & Wellness Coach Annabel Treon helps us cultivate good habits in the month of January to set a healthy, happy foundation for the year ahead, starting with how and why we should be prioritising getting a good night’s sleep!