How sleep impacts your health and wellbeing


Each night, when I go to sleep, I die. And the next morning, when I wake up, I am reborn. Mahatma Gandhi

Did you know we spend approximately a third of our lives sleeping?

This week is National Sleep Awareness Week and Friday, 15 March 2013 was World Sleep Day so, to celebrate, today’s blog is about the importance of sleep and how it can improve your health and wellbeing.

Did you know that lack of sleep and sleep disorders actually affects 60% of the population?

According to the National Sleep Foundation, sleep is essential for your health and wellbeing. Some of the first signs exhibited by someone lacking sleep include irritability, moodiness, lack of judgement, poor reaction time and coordination. If it continues, they start to experience apathy, slowed speech, flattened emotional responses, impaired memory and inability to multitask.

Most healthy adults are built for 16 hours of wakefulness and need an average of eight hours sleep a night. However some function better with more, and some function better with less.

Not surprisingly, the number one cause for short-term sleeping difficulties is stress – we’ve all experienced that. Generally the sleep problems will dissolve as the stressful situation passes. However, if insomnia isn’t managed correctly, the affects can linger for a longer period.

When your body is sleep deficient, it goes into a state of stress. The increase in stress hormones raises the level of inflammation in your body, also creating more risk for heart-related conditions as well as cancer and diabetes. Lack of sleep has been associated with worsening blood pressure and cholesterol, all risk factors for heart disease and stroke. Your heart will be healthier if you get between 7 and 9 hours sleep each night. People who sleep less than seven hours each night are more likely to be overweight or obese.

Waking up around the same time each day is one of the most powerful ways to set the part of your brain that governs when you feel sleepy and when you feel awake – also known as your biological clock. This is what makes some of us morning people and some of us evening people.

Exposing yourself to bright light – ideally daylight – soon after waking, is important if you are trying to reset your biological clock. This is why many light therapy panels use dawn simulators.  People working shift work have a higher risk for breast and colon cancer. Light exposure reduces the level of melatonin, a hormone that both makes us sleepy and is thought to protect against cancer. Be sure that your bedroom is dark to help your body produce the melatonin it needs.

Why can’t I sleep? And how can I fix it?
– Thinking of all the problems you have (start thinking about solutions – keep a worry pad next to your bed and write them all down so they’re ready to put into action when you get up)
– Remembering something bad that happened to you or how someone hurt or insulted you – now is the perfect time to consider why you should forgive them and how you’re going to do it. Resolve the problem within yourself so it stops hurting you.
– Thinking negatively: “This is going to be one of those nights where I toss and turn”. Excessive worry about not sleeping is likely to make sleeplessness worse. Attitude still plays a part in whether you sleep well or not.
– Going to bed stressed after a hard day – it’s time to get up, have a shower, a cup of warm milk and perhaps practise some meditation techniques before you attempt to sleep.

Researchers do not fully understand why we sleep and dream, but a process called memory consolidation occurs during sleep. Your dreams and deep sleep are an important time for your brain to make memories and links. Getting more quality sleep will help you remember and process things better.

Poor sleep is a major cause of lost productivity as well as accidents in the workplace, on the road and at home. A recent report estimated that sleep disorders cost the Australian community at least $5 billion per year.

Up to a third of the population suffers from insomnia (lack of sleep). This can affect mood, energy and concentration levels, relationships and our ability to stay awake and function during the day.

Don’t toss and turn – here are some tips to help you sleep:

Top tips to help you sleep
– Go to bed and get up at the same time each day.
Restrict your bedroom activities to sleep and making love.
Don’t spend extensive periods in bed trying to catch up on missed sleep.
If you aren’t sleepy after 20-30 minutes, get up and do something relaxing (such as reading) until you are sleepy, and then return to bed. If you’re not asleep in another 20-30 minutes, repeat.
Avoid exercising before bed. Exercise has a stimulating effect.
Visualise something pleasant and somewhat repetitive to help you fall asleep quickly – such as waves gently lapping against the side of a boat.
– Similar to the suggestion above, count sheep or anything continuous and monotonous.
Restrict napping to 20 minutes or less during the day.
Avoid caffeine (soft drink, tea and coffee), nicotine and amphetamines. Alcohol fragments sleep, making you wake more often.
Consuming foods high in tryptophan (an amino acid found in milk, yoghurt, cheese and poultry) a few hours before bedtime can help you sleep because your brain uses it to create serotonin which helps regulate your sleep cycle.
A slight drop in body temperature can help promote sleep.
Don’t eat before bed.
Sleeping poorly increases the risk of having poor mental health.
Exercise regularly (but finish at least three hours before bed).
Establish a consistent wind-down routine before bed.
– Try falling asleep. Don’t put a time limit on it, but sometimes when you make up your mind to do something, it will just happen.
– Avoid any distractions such as watching television, using the computer or listening to music.
– Read a peaceful or boring book. I always found my university study notes got me off pretty quickly! The moment you feel tired, put the book down and relax – go with it.
– Skip dessert – limit your sugar intake at night. You don’t need the extra energy.
– Turn the lights off. Make your room as dark as possible.
– Pamper yourself with a nice relaxing bath. Put some aromatherapy oils into it to make it an even more relaxing.
– Cuddle a pet and have a race to see who can fall asleep the fastest. I used to do this one with my puppy – it actually works!
– Eliminate noise – get rid of noisy ticking clocks, wear earplugs if your housemate is a problem … find solutions rather than dwelling on the noise.
– Try only breathing through your nose and breathe very slowly. There are breathing techniques you can follow online if you wish.
– Sleep on your side, don’t try to fall asleep on your back. You can prop yourself up with a pillow if it helps you to be more comfortable.
– Don’t watch the time. Forget what time it is, it is irrelevant. The most important thing is that it’s night time and you’re meant to be sleeping. Concentrate on that.
– Practise yoga during the week. The Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Centre in Seattle discovered that women who did stretches (upper and lower body) up to four times a week for about 15-30 minutes, reduced their problems falling asleep by up to 30 percent. It’s worth a shot!

These are just a few suggestions for how to fall asleep quickly and easily – what ideas do you have?


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