We don’t often think about why we sleep or what happens when we do, but most of us acknowledge that a good nights sleep makes us feel happier and more energetic. So why do we often end up sacrificing our sleep when in fact it's as important as eating and drinking?
With our lives already full of work-life commitments, it’s difficult to squeeze another priority onto the list. However, during sleep our bodies and brains are more active than ever rebuilding muscle and tissue, restoring energy and replenishing hormones. Choosing to make sleep a priority therefore really will prove to be one of the wisest decisions you can make when it comes to improving your health and wellbeing.
Why else is sleep so good for us?
Amazingly, even if you are on the same diet as a friend but are not getting the sleep your body needs and they are, you won’t lose as much weight as them. In fact there's not a diet pill on the planet that can do you more good than sleep can. A study carried out by the University of Chicago discovered that people who consumed the same number of calories a day but slept eight and a half hours per night versus only five and a half hours per night, lost up to six pounds more. Those who slept less lost 60% more muscle, and the three hours of lost sleep changed the activity of metabolism in the body which made it want to store fat at the expense of muscle. This will also make you want to eat more sugary snacks during the day to keep energy levels up.
When we are sleep deprived our focus and attention drift, making it more difficult to concentrate on the job at hand and making it more likely that we will have accidents at work. Without enough rest, over-worked brain neurons can no longer function properly and we lose our ability to receive and process information. Also during deep sleep the brain processes what happened during the day, encouraging memory formation and helping us to remember what we learned and did the day before.
We’ve probably all had moments of being snappy and irritable from lack of sleep, and we’ve all no doubt experienced how refreshed and relaxed we feel after a restful night. However, according to the Slumber Survey carried out by IKEA, only 1% of those asked claim to feel fantastic when they wake up. Regular, deep sleep is the key to waking up feeling revived and happy, and getting a good night’s sleep can also help lower elevated levels of stress hormones, helping us feel more calm and able to cope with the business of everyday life.
Regular shut-eye actually makes you look healthier and more attractive, according to a 2010 study published in the British Medical Journal. Overnight, skin cells are rebuilt and repaired with the help of growth hormones that only function during sleep, making the term ‘beauty sleep’ more meaningful than ever. Additionally, if you sleep badly you are likely to become stressed and irritated, causing facial capillaries to tighten up and affect the flow of nutrients to the skin and scalp, making the hair and skin look dull.
Getting a good night's sleep won't grant you immunity from disease but lack of sleep can suppress your immune system, making you more vulnerable to infections. A study in 2009 found that sleeping for fewer than seven hours a night increased the risk of catching a cold and there have been many links made between insufficient sleep and some more serious health problems, such as heart disease, heart attacks, diabetes, and obesity. How this works is that while you’re sleeping, your body produces extra protein molecules that help strengthen your ability to fight infection and stay healthy.
Even with all this in mind, however, it can sometimes be difficult to drift off naturally into a restful night’s sleep. We've come up with five useful tips to help you:
- Go to sleep and wake up at the same time every day. A routine will help you get the most out of your sleep and if you’re still waking up tired, you may need to set an earlier bedtime. Try not to break your routine at weekends when it may be tempting to stay up late and sleep in.
- Take small naps. 40 winks during the day (10-30mins) can allow you to make up for a few lost hours and re-energise you without disturbing your natural sleep patterns. If, however, you suffer from insomnia, nap only in the afternoon and limit it to 30 minutes.
- Pay attention to what you eat and drink before bed. Try to eat as early in the evening as possible and avoid rich or spicy foods two hours before switching off the light as they can cause stomach issues that could keep you awake. Any caffeine intake after lunchtime could potentially effect your sleep so consider cutting back and replacing with herbal teas and decaf. Also watch your alcohol intake as although it can make you feel sleepy at first it can disrupt sleep later in the night.
- Include physical activity in your daily routine. Any exercise, even small walks, can help you to fall asleep more easily and to enjoy deeper sleep. If exercising in the evening makes you too energised to fall asleep, try exercising earlier in the day.
- Create a routine. The hour or so before going to bed is important for falling asleep naturally. Trying winding down with a favourite hobby, listening to relaxing music, reading a book or magazine, or taking a warm bath. Switching off from study, work, or stressful activity is key to a good night’s sleep.