Why Is Proper Sleep So Important To Your Health
How to get a better nights sleep. A good night’s sleep is incredibly important for your health. In fact, it’s just as important as eating healthy and exercising. Unfortunately, the Western environment is interfering with natural sleep patterns. People are now sleeping less than they did in the past, and sleep quality has decreased as well.
Below are the notes to go alongside today’s podcast. If you want to go straight to the podcast please do so and find it at the bottom of this blog post.
Here are 10 reasons why good sleep is important:
Poor Sleep Can Make You Fat
Poor sleep is strongly linked to weight gain. People with short sleep duration tend to weigh significantly more than those who get adequate sleep. In fact, short sleep duration is one of the strongest risk factors for obesity. In one extensive review study, children and adults with short sleep duration were 89% and 55% more likely to become obese, respectively. The effect of sleep on weight gain is believed to be mediated by numerous factors, including hormones and motivation to exercise. If you’re trying to lose weight, getting quality sleep is absolutely crucial.
Good Sleepers Tend To Eat Fewer Calories
Studies show that sleep-deprived individuals have a bigger appetite and tend to eat more calories. Sleep deprivation disrupts the daily fluctuations in appetite hormones and is believed to cause poor appetite regulation. This includes higher levels of ghrelin, the hormone that stimulates appetite, and reduced levels of leptin, the hormone that suppresses appetite.
Good Sleep Can Improve Concentrate And Productivity
Sleep is important for various aspects of brain function. This includes cognition, concentration, productivity and performance. All of these are negatively affected by sleep deprivation. A study on medical interns provides a good example. Students on a traditional schedule with extended work hours of more than 24 hours made 36% more serious medical errors than students on a schedule that allowed more sleep.
Another study found that short sleep can negatively impact some aspects of brain function to a similar degree as alcohol intoxication. On the other hand, good sleep has been shown to improve problem-solving skills and enhance memory performance of both children and adults.
Good Sleep Can Maximise Athletic Performance
Sleep has been shown to enhance athletic performance. In a study on basketball players, longer sleep was shown to significantly improve speed, accuracy, reaction times and mental wellbeing. Less sleep duration has also been associated with poor exercise performance and functional limitation in elderly women. A study in over 2,800 women found that poor sleep was linked to slower walking, lower grip strength and greater difficulty performing independent activities.
Poorer Sleepers Have A Higher Risk Of Heart Disease And Stroke
It’s known that sleep quality and duration can have a major effect on many health risk factors. These are the factors believed to drive chronic diseases, including heart disease. A review of 15 studies found that people who don’t get enough sleep are at far greater risk of heart disease or stroke than those who sleep 7–8 hours per night.
Sleep Affects Glucose Metabolism And Type Two Diabetes Risk
Experimental sleep restriction affects blood sugar and reduces insulin sensitivity. In a study in healthy young men, restricting sleep to four hours per night for six nights in a row caused symptoms of prediabetes. These symptoms resolved after one week of increased sleep duration.
Poor sleep habits are also strongly linked to adverse effects on blood sugar in the general population. Those sleeping less than six hours per night have repeatedly been shown to be at an increased risk of type 2 diabetes.
Poor Sleep Is Linked To Depression
Mental health issues, such as depression, are strongly linked to poor sleep quality and sleeping disorders. It has been estimated that 90% of people with depression complain about sleep. Poor sleep is even associated with an increased risk of death by suicide. Those with sleeping disorders like insomnia or obstructive sleep apnea also report significantly higher rates of depression than those without.
Sleep Improves Your Immune Function
Even a small loss of sleep has been shown to impair immune function. One large two-week study monitored the development of the common cold after giving people nasal drops with the cold virus. They found that those who slept less than seven hours were almost three times more likely to develop a cold than those who slept eight hours or more. If you often get colds, ensuring that you get at least eight hours of sleep per night could be very helpful. Eating more garlic can help as well.
Poor Sleep Is Linked To Increased Inflammation
Sleep can have a major effect on inflammation in your body. In fact, sleep loss is known to activate undesirable markers of inflammation and cell damage. Poor sleep has been strongly linked to long-term inflammation of the digestive tract, in disorders known as inflammatory bowel diseases. One study observed that sleep-deprived people with Crohn’s disease were twice as likely to relapse as patients who slept well. Researchers are even recommending sleep evaluation to help predict outcomes in individuals with long-term inflammatory issues.
Sleep Affects Emotions And Social Interactions
Sleep loss reduces your ability to interact socially. Several studies confirmed this using emotional facial recognition tests. One study found that people who had not slept had a reduced ability to recognize expressions of anger and happiness. Researchers believe that poor sleep affects your ability to recognize important social cues and process emotional information.
How To Get A Better Nights Sleep
This moves us onto things you can do to help you sleep faster, longer and deeper. Good sleep is incredibly important. It helps you feel good and makes your body and brain function properly. Some people have no problem falling asleep. However, many others have severe difficulty falling and staying asleep through the night. Poor sleep can have negative effects on many parts of your body and brain, including learning, memory, mood, emotions and various biological functions.
Here are 20 simple ways to fall asleep as fast as possible:
Lower The Room Temperature
Your body temperature changes as you fall asleep. Core temperature decreases, while the temperature of your hands and feet increases. If your room is too warm, you might have a hard time falling asleep. Setting your thermostat to a cool temperature between 60–75°F (15–23°C) could help. Individual preferences will vary, so find the temperature that works best for you. Taking a warm bath or shower could also help speed up the body’s temperature changes. As your body cools down afterwards, this can help send a signal to your brain to go to sleep.
Use The 4-7-8 Breathing Method
The “4-7-8” method is a simple but powerful breathing method that promotes calmness and relaxation. It might also help you unwind before bed. This breathing method consists of a breathing pattern that relaxes the nervous system. It can be practiced anytime you feel anxious or stressed.
Here are the steps:
- First, place the tip of your tongue behind your upper front teeth.
- Exhale completely through your mouth and make a whoosh sound.
- Close your mouth and inhale through your nose while mentally counting to four.
- Hold your breath and mentally count to seven.
- Open your mouth and exhale completely, making a whoosh sound and mentally counting to eight.
- Repeat this cycle at least three more times.
This technique can relax you and help you fall asleep quickly.
Get On A Sleeping Schedule
Many people find that setting a sleep schedule helps them fall asleep easier. Your body has its own regulatory system called the circadian rhythm. This internal clock cues your body to feel alert during the day but sleepy at night.
Waking up and going to bed at the same times each day can help your internal clock keep a regular schedule. Once your body adjusts to this schedule, it will be easier to fall asleep and wake up around the same time every day. It is also important to get seven to nine hours of sleep each night. This has been shown to be the optimal sleep duration for adults.
Lastly, give yourself 30 minutes to an hour to wind down in the evening before getting in bed. This allows your body and mind to relax and prepare for sleep.
Experience Both Daylight And Darkness
Light can influence your body’s internal clock, which regulates sleep and wakefulness. Irregular light exposure can lead to disruption of circadian rhythms, making it harder to fall asleep and stay awake.
During the day, exposing your body to a bright light tells it to stay alert. At night, darkness promotes feelings of sleepiness. In fact, research shows that darkness boosts the production of melatonin, an essential hormone for sleep. Get out and expose your body to sunlight or artificial bright light throughout the day. If possible, use blackout curtains to make your room dark at night.
Practice Things Like Yoga, Meditation And Mindfulness
When people are stressed, they tend to have difficulty falling asleep. Yoga, meditation and mindfulness are tools to calm the mind and relax the body. Moreover, they have been shown to improve sleep. Yoga encourages the practice of breathing patterns and body movements that release stress and tension accumulated in your body.
Meditation can enhance melatonin levels and assist the brain in achieving a specific state where sleep is easily achieved. Lastly, mindfulness may help you maintain focus on the present and worry less while falling asleep. Practicing one or all of these techniques can help you get a good night’s rest and wake up reenergized.
Do Not Look At Your Clock
It is normal to wake up in the middle of the night. However, the inability to fall back asleep can ruin a good night’s rest. People who wake up in the middle of the night often tend to watch the clock and obsess about the fact that they cannot fall back asleep.
“Clock-watching” is common among people suffering from insomnia. This behaviour may cause anxiety about sleeplessness. To make matters worse, waking on a regular basis without falling back asleep may cause your body to develop a routine. As a result, you might find yourself waking up in the middle of the night every night. If possible, it is best to remove the clock from your room. If you need an alarm in the room, you can turn your clock and avoid watching it when you wake up in the middle of the night.
Avoid Naps During The Day
Due to poor sleep at night, people with insomnia tend to be sleepy during the day. This often leads to daytime napping. While naps of short duration have been linked to improvements in alertness and wellbeing, there are mixed opinions about the effects of napping on nighttime sleep.
Some studies have shown that regular, long (two hours or more) and late naps may lead to poor nighttime sleep quality and even sleep deprivation. One study showed that among 440 college students, those who reported taking three or more naps per week, those who napped more than two hours and those who napped late (between 6 and 9 p.m.) had the poorest nighttime sleep quality.
Another study found that older adults who napped frequently had lower quality nighttime sleep, more depressive symptoms, more limited physical activity and were more likely to be overweight than those who rarely took a nap. Other studies have revealed that naps do not affect nighttime sleep. To find out if naps are affecting your sleep, try either eliminating naps altogether or limiting yourself to a short nap (30 minutes or less) early in the day.
Watch What And When You Eat
It seems that the food you eat before bed may affect your sleep. For example, research has shown that high-carb meals may be detrimental to a good night’s rest. A review of studies concluded that even though a high-carb diet can get you to fall asleep faster, it will not be restful sleep. Instead, high-fat meals could promote a deeper and more restful sleep.
In fact, several studies agree that a high-carb/low-fat diet significantly decreased the quality of sleep compared to a low-carb/high-fat diet with the same amount of calories for both diets. If you still want to eat a high-carb meal for dinner, you should eat it at least four hours before bed, so you have enough time to digest it.
For more details on foods to eat, here are the 9 best foods to help you sleep.
Listen To Relaxing Music
Music can significantly improve the quality of sleep. It can even be used to improve chronic sleep disorders like insomnia. A study of 24 young adults demonstrated that sedative music promoted deeper sleep. Buddhist music is a kind of music created from different Buddhist chants and used for meditation. Listening to it may be a great tool for better sleep.
Another study revealed that 25 participants had a more restful and deeper sleep when they were exposed to soothing music for 45 minutes at bedtime, compared to those not listening to music. Lastly, if relaxing music is not available, blocking all noise could also help you fall asleep faster and promote uninterrupted sleep.
Exercising During The Day
Physical activity is often considered beneficial to healthy sleep. Exercise can increase the duration and quality of sleep by boosting the production of serotonin in the brain and decreasing levels of cortisol, the stress hormone. However, it is important to maintain a moderate-intensity exercise routine and not overdo it. Excessive training has been linked to poor sleep.
The time of the day when you exercise is also critical. To promote better quality sleep, working out early in the morning appears to be better than working out later in the day. Therefore, a moderate-to-vigorous exercise in the morning could significantly improve the quality and quantity of your sleep.
It has been shown that having a comfortable mattress and bedding can have a remarkable effect on the depth and quality of sleep. A medium-firm mattress has been shown to positively affect sleep quality and prevent sleep disturbances and muscular discomfort.
The quality of your pillow is also crucial. It can affect your neck curve, temperature and comfort. A study determined that orthopaedic pillows may be better than feather or memory foam pillows. Additionally, the use of a weighted blanket could reduce body stress and help improve your sleep. Lastly, the fabric of the clothes you wear to bed can affect how well you sleep. It is crucial you choose comfortable clothing made of fabric that helps you keep a pleasant temperature throughout the night.
Turn Off All Electronics
Using electronic devices late at night is terrible for sleep. Watching TV, playing video games, using a mobile phone and social networking can make it significantly harder for you to fall and stay asleep. It is recommended that you disconnect all electronics and put away computers and mobile phones so you can ensure a quiet place, free of distractions. You will be able to fall asleep much faster.
Aromatherapy involves the use of essential oils. Aromatherapy is commonly used by those who have trouble falling asleep, as it may help with relaxation. A systematic review of 12 studies revealed that the use of aromatherapy was effective in improving sleep quality.
Additionally, it seems that lavender and damask rose are popular scents with positive effects on sleep. An essential oil diffuser could be helpful in infusing your room with relaxing scents that encourage sleep.
Some people have difficulty falling asleep because their thoughts keep running in circles. Research has shown that this can produce anxiety and stress, which can generate negative emotions and disturb sleep. Research has shown that journaling and focusing on positive thoughts can calm the mind and help you sleep better.
Writing down the positive events that happened during the day can create a state of gratitude and happiness, downgrade stressful events and promote more relaxation at bedtime. In fact, a study of 41 college students found that journaling resulted in reduced bedtime worry and stress, increased sleep time and improved sleep quality.
Try practicing this technique by setting aside 15 minutes every night to write about your day. It is important to focus not only on the positive events of the day but also on how you feel at the time.
Limit Caffeine And Drink Herbal Teas
Caffeine is widely used among people to fight fatigue and stimulate alertness. It can be found in foods and beverages like chocolate, coffee, sodas and energy drinks. Unfortunately, caffeine can have disastrous effects on your sleep. Although the effects of caffeine vary from person to person, it is recommended that you refrain from consuming caffeine at least six hours before bedtime.
Instead, you could drink a soothing tea like chamomile tea, which has been shown to promote sleep and relaxation. You can find a list of bedtime teas that help sleep in this article.
Adjust Your Sleep Position
Good quality sleep may depend on your body position during the night. There are three main sleeping positions: back, stomach or side. Traditionally, it was believed that back sleepers had a better quality of sleep. However, research has shown that this might not be the best position to sleep in, as it could lead to blocked airways, sleep apnea and snoring.
In fact, a study done on 16 people determined that the participants who reported consistent poor sleep spent more time on their back. Although individual preferences play an important role in choosing a sleep position, the side position seems to be linked to high-quality sleep.
Reading could be a good activity to help you wind down before bed. At least for kids, it seems that bedtime reading may promote longer sleep. However, it is important to understand the difference between reading from an electronic book and a traditional paper book.
Electronic books emit a kind of light that can reduce melatonin secretion, making it harder for you to fall asleep and causing you to feel tired the next day. Therefore, it is recommended to read from a physical book in order to relax and improve your sleep.
Focus On Trying To Stay Awake
It is believed that if you go to bed and try to force yourself to fall asleep, your chances of succeeding drop dramatically. Instead, you can try “paradoxical intention.” This technique recommends trying to stay awake instead of forcing yourself to sleep.
This technique is based on the idea that the stress and anxiety produced by forcing yourself to fall asleep can prevent you from relaxing and snoozing off. A study showed that people who try this technique paradoxically tend to fall asleep faster.
Visualise Things That Make You Happy
Instead of lying in bed worrying and thinking about stressful things, visualize a place that makes you feel happy and calm. 41 participants suffering from insomnia were able to fall asleep faster after they were instructed to use an “imaginary distraction”.
This technique helped them occupy their mind with good thoughts instead of engaging with worries and concerns during the pre-sleep time. Picturing and concentrating on an environment that makes you feel peaceful and relaxed can take your mind away from the thoughts that keep you up at night. I have described this in more detail in the podcast at the bottom of this blog post.
Try Sleep-Enhancing Supplements
Certain supplements can help you fall asleep faster. They have been shown to encourage sleep either by boosting the production of sleep-promoting hormones or by calming brain activity.
Supplements that can help you fall asleep include:
- Magnesium. Magnesium helps activate the neurotransmitters responsible for sleep. Doses of 200–400 mg per day, taken with food, have been shown to improve sleep.
- 5 HTP (5-hydroxytryptophan). 5-HTP boosts the production of serotonin, which has been linked to the regulation of sleep. Doses of 300–500 mg per day, taken either once daily or in divided doses, seem to be effective in treating insomnia.
- Melatonin. Melatonin is a hormone naturally produced by the body, but it can also be taken as a supplement to help regulate your sleep. Doses of 0.5–5 mg taken 30 minutes before bed seem to improve sleep quality.
- Theanine. Theanine is an amino acid with sedative properties. Although it has not been shown to induce sleep, it could help with relaxation. Doses of 200 mg per day seem to be useful.
- GABA (gamma-aminobutyric acid). GABA is a compound produced in the brain that inhibits certain transmitters and may help the central nervous system relax. Doses of 250–500 mg and no more than 1,000 mg are recommended.
For more information about effective supplements, here are 9 natural sleep aids that are backed by science.
The Bottom Line
Along with nutrition and exercise, good sleep is one of the pillars of health. You simply can not achieve optimal health without taking care of your sleep. Having trouble falling and staying asleep is not only frustrating, but it can also affect your mental and physical health. Using the techniques above can help you fall asleep quickly while sleeping much better and having more energy the next day.
I talk about sleep in my book and its importance.
Products from Amazon.co.uk
Below you will find the podcast where I speak about all of the above.
I would welcome any feedback or comments and hope you find today’s podcast and blog post helpful.