Why sleep is so important?
It’s important to get enough quality sleep to ensure a healthy mind and body. The importance of sleep is largely underestimated, yet it’s an essential process for good mental and physical health. During sleep, hormones are released into the body, which assist with repair and maintenance of the day’s wear and tear. This allows you to recharge and is instrumental in protecting your body from certain health risks.
What happens when we’re asleep?
Studies reveal that the average adult requires 7 – 8 hours of sleep each night. This time allows you to experience all of the necessary stages of sleep, leaving you well rested and rejuvenated.
The sleep cycle is categorised into Rapid Eye Movement (REM) and non-REM sleep. Non-REM sleep accounts for up to 75% of sleep and consists of various stages ranging from light sleep to deep sleep. The deeper the sleep, the less responsive the brain is to stimuli from the outside world. REM sleep accounts for 25% of sleep and occurs when you experience a relaxing, dream-like state.
Common sleep disorders
Sleep disorders are those conditions which interfere with a normal sleep cycle, thereby marring the quality of the sleeper’s restorative sleep. Some of the most common types of sleep disorders include:
- Insomnia, which is the inability to initiate or maintain adequate sleep
- Sleep apnoea where the sleeper stops breathing for short periods
- Restless leg syndrome when one’s legs feel uncomfortable, resulting in a disturbed sleep cycle
- Narcolepsy, which is a neurological disorder characterised by uncontrollable episodes of suddenly falling asleep
- Sleep walking, a behavioural disorder where the sleeper walks or performs complex tasks while asleep
The reasons sleep is good for you
Some of the key benefits of sleep include the following:
- Sleep regulates your appetite
During sleep your movement and calorie usage decrease. This reduces the sensation of hunger, thus regulating your appetite. Sleep-deprived people however, do not experience this sensation and so are constantly hungry, leading to overeating and weight gain.
- Sleep improves concentration and memory
Sleep protects and strengthens your memory. It improves your focus and concentration, leading to improved productivity and cognitive performance. Those with poor sleep patterns have impaired judgement and weak problem-solving skills.
- Sleep enhances athletic performance
Getting enough sleep will improve an athlete’s speed, accuracy, mental well-being and reaction time. Those suffering from sleep deprivation suffer from functional limitations such as clumsiness and reduced physical stamina.
- Sleep protects the body
Quality sleep contributes to lowering the risk of developing certain conditions like diabetes, heart disease or stroke. In addition, sleep helps boost your immune system by releasing repair hormones into your body during the sleep cycle.
- Sleep is essential for emotional well-being
Sleep is required for good mental and emotional well-being. Getting a good night’s rest will enable you to recharge, leaving you feeling refreshed and able to interact socially.
How to improve your sleep cycle
Practice good sleeping habits by following these easy tips:
1. Stick to a sleep schedule
Develop a consistent sleep schedule where you go to bed and wake up at the same time each day. This routine will become an internalised cognitive pattern to which your body will adapt, making it easier to fall asleep each night.
2. Optimise your sleep space
Your sleeping space should be a comfortable environment that is conducive to sleep hygiene. Invest in a good quality mattress and pillow and keep external noises and disruptions to a minimum.
3. Watch your eating and drinking habits
If possible, try to make supper your lightest meal of the day. This is because a heavy meal could cause digestive problems. Likewise, don’t eat spicy food if you suffer from heartburn and say ‘no’ to the nightcap as alcohol can also disrupt your sleep patterns.
You should stop drinking caffeinated drinks, like tea and coffee, by midday as this stimulant can affect your central nervous system, preventing you from relaxing and enjoying a good night’s rest.
3. Try relaxation techniques
If you battle to fall asleep, try some relaxation methods like yoga, meditation or breathing exercises. Alternatively, you could have a hot bath or shower just before you retire for bed.
6. Exercise regularly
Regular aerobic exercise performed at least four times per week assists in providing a quality sleep cycle. If you’re not sure where to start, take a look at our article: Tips To Starting An Exercise Routine That Works For You.
7. Turn off the lights
Lighting stimulates the brain, which can affect the quality of your sleep cycle. At night, it’s advisable to make sure your sleeping space is darkened, as natural or artificial light could keep your brain active. Turn off all electronics, like the TV or laptop, at least one hour before going to sleep. Blue light from mobile phones and tablets can be particularly disruptive. Digital Detox: Time To Unplug So You Can Recharge gives insight regarding utilising your digital time effectively.
8. Healthy lifestyle habits
Smoking is linked to a variety of health risks like lung cancer and cardiovascular disease. It can also interfere with your sleep pattern as nicotine is a stimulant that renders a smoker unable to experience the relevant sleep stages adequately. In addition, smoking has been linked to exacerbating sleep disorders, like sleep apnoea.
Natural supplements and remedies to help you fall asleep
We recommend trying the following natural supplements or remedies to help you fall asleep:
- Gingko biloba, to reduce stress and anxiety, promoting relaxation and sleep
- Magnesium supplements, as this compound regulates the production of melatonin, which is a hormone that guides the sleep-wake cycle
- Lavender oil: a few drops in your bath or rubbed into the palm of your hands can induce sleep by relieving stress and anxiety
- Chamomile tea contains an antioxidant that promotes sleepiness
Sleep hygiene is an important factor for good health. It’s an essential process for both the body and mind, allowing for repair, maintenance and rejuvenation. So, don’t neglect your sleep quality because at Topmed we encourage a healthy lifestyle. Get in touch today to sign up for cover for yourself and your family.
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