A lot of people don’t understand the importance of sleep and how it affects you. Scientific evidence proves that sleep is a vital part of our lives. It must be important for us as, after all, we spend nearly a third of our lifetime asleep. Babies and small children naturally have a big need for sleep as they are growing and developing at a fast rate. Teenagers again need plenty of sleep and rest, they may be nearly fully grown in height but the brain undergoes massive growth and restructuring during the teenage years up until age 21 (or even later!).
As grown-ups, sleep doesn’t seem to feature so much in our list of priorities. It is a sign of our times that we try to cram too much into every single day, cutting out precious sleep hours. The average 21st-century adult spends only about 5-6 hours asleep. Our requirement for sleep at an adult age is about 7-9 hours per night, consistently.
Surely, spending more time doing things, being productive and generally achieving must be better for us than sleeping? Not really. During sleep, a myriad of processes happens in our bodies, from cell repair and renewal to processing the day’s events and giving our organs a chance to rest and recharge.
Why is sleep so important?
The body and mind need rest to recover. We all work hard during the day, and all the energy we expend has to be charged up again with a good night’s sleep. Science proves that lack of sleep reduces immune function and makes us more likely to fall ill or stay ill longer.
Lack of sleep messes with our blood sugar levels, which causes them to be lower than normal lack of sleep can make us feel insecure and depressed. You can’t study or retain information well when you’re tired. And you actually age faster without the right amount and type of sleep.
Tips from the National Sleep Foundation
Below are the top tips from The National Sleep Foundation in the USA based on the latest science and research. To help get good quality sleep, take these simple steps
Avoid the stimulants caffeine and alcohol too close to bedtime.
I recommend no coffee after 1 pm and certainly not after 3 pm. Alcohol only in moderation. Try going to bed without alcohol for 2-3 nights to see the benefits of deeper sleep and less waking restless in the middle of the night. Waking around 2 am is a classic sign of excess caffeine and/or alcohol in the body.
Avoid Spicy Foods
Avoid spicy foods too close to bedtime if acid heartburn is one of your problems. Try to have a soothing small bowl of natural full-fat yoghurt topped with maple syrup or a little brown sugar if acid heartburn is a problem.
Have your bedroom sleep-ready
Keep it at an even temperature, not too hot or cold. Having your bedroom at 16-19C is ideal. Air it out before going to bed. Keep your bed linen fresh; exchange it at least twice a month, if not weekly. And make sure your bedroom is dark. Block out unwanted light by fitting black-out blinds and reducing light from phones or other items. Also, keep your bedroom for sleep only. Don’t work, study, or watch TV from your bed. If you have a problem with being woken by the noise, block it out using earplugs. This may take a little getting used to, but it can be hugely helpful in more noisy environments.
Have a balanced diet
Eat a balanced nutritious diet and time your meals well for a good night’s sleep. Aim for lots of whole grains, colourful fruits and vegetables, which all contain large amounts of fibre, which helps balance your blood sugars and keep you going longer. Also, look out for foods rich in B vitamins. These include fish, poultry, legumes, eggs and dairy. Remember that eating well will also help you lose weight, further improving your sleep quality.
Turn on Night Shift
Put on the Night Shift on your phone from 8 pm at night until 7 am in the morning. This excludes blue light, which is the light that keeps you awake. Ideally, put your phone down at least half an hour before bed. Read a book instead.
Believe it or not, you can be too tired, too awake, or too energetic to sleep. And exercise is an ideal way of ensuring a good night’s sleep. Check-in with your local gym for classes that suit you. Sign up today and start experiencing the benefits of regular exercise for your sleep. Exercising as little as 30 mins thrice weekly has proven to have health benefits.