How did you sleep last night? A simple question. Yet for anyone who has struggled with sleep, there’s no simple answer.
We know that sleep is linked to a better quality of life, healthy glowing skin, and improved physical and mental health. We are told that life will derail if we’re not getting enough Zzzs. We know that sleep is a fundamental aspect of human life.
But unfortunately, few of us are getting enough.
Many struggle to fall asleep or stay asleep, others wake up feeling like they’ve been whacked over the head with a kettlebell, even after getting an apparently good night’s sleep. Why is this? What lies beneath the sheets of a proper refreshing, re-fueling, rejuvenating good old-fashioned kip?
In this month’s blog post, we will explore the importance of sleep and provide some helpful tips on how to improve your sleep quality so you can say ‘good morning’ to a healthier, more fulfilling, well-rested life.
Why is sleep so important?
Sleep plays a huge role in so many aspects of our lives. From physical health to cognitive functioning, sleep is crucial to maintaining our overall well-being and quality of life. But sadly, in today's fast-paced and tech-driven world, sleep often takes a backseat to other priorities.
This can cause us to develop issues with our physical or mental health, as well as reduce our productivity at work or at home.
What happens when we sleep?
Did you know that sleep helps us to grow? Sleep is also essential for our bodies to recover and rejuvenate.
- During sleep, our bodies undergo critical processes such as tissue repair, muscle growth, and the release of growth hormones. We need to sleep so we can repair and function optimally in our day-to-day lives.
- Sleep helps our brains function properly. During sleep our brain consolidates memories and processes information from the day, enhancing learning and cognitive functions.
- Sleep deprivation disrupts these vital processes which can lead to a range of health problems, including compromised immune function, increased risk of chronic and metabolic diseases such as heart disease, diabetes, and high blood pressure, as well as impaired cognitive abilities and mood disturbances.
One of the keys to improving sleep quality is establishing a regular sleep schedule. Going to bed and waking up at the same time every day helps regulate the body's internal clock. This is known as the circadian rhythm and it ensures that you get the right amount of quality sleep each night.
Create a relaxing bedtime routine
Creating a bedtime routine can also significantly improve sleep quality. Make sleep your priority at night by engaging in relaxing activities before bed, which send signals to the body that it's time to wind down.
- Read a book – choose something that is relaxing and not over-stimulating such as a horror or high-drama thriller.
- Take a warm bath – set the mood, light a candle, grab a book, add the Epsom salts and settle in.
- Practice meditation or mindfulness – there are plenty of apps and programs to help you get to grips with this practice or to guide you through a short meditation.
There are a few things to avoid at night as they can interfere with sleep cycles:
- Stimulating activities, like using electronic devices or watching a highly stimulating TV show
- Drinking alcohol – the odd glass of wine is fine but if you’re using alcohol to help you sleep you’re paradoxically doing more harm than good. This is because alcoholic drinks interfere with your sleep.
- Consuming caffeine close to bedtime for obvious reasons!
Get the environment right
Creating a comfortable sleep environment can help you to sleep better. Try these tricks:
- Create a quiet, dark, and cool bedroom as this naturally encourages better sleep.
- Invest in a supportive mattress and comfortable pillows
- Eliminate sources of noise and light, such as electronic devices, can further promote a restful sleep environment.
Watch your food intake
Are there foods which help or hinder our sleep? In a nutshell, yes.
- Avoid heavy, greasy meals or spicy foods before bedtime may cause discomfort, indigestion and therefore will likely disrupt your sleep.
- Try to consume foods which are rich in tryptophan – an amino acid that helps produce serotonin and melatonin such as turkey, nuts, and seeds, as these can promote relaxation and sleepiness.
- Foods containing magnesium can help relax muscles and promote better sleep such as leafy greens, bananas and whole grains.
- Moderate alcohol and caffeine intake is essential since both substances can interfere with sleep patterns.
Regular exercise is key
Regular physical activity is scientifically proven to be linked to better sleep quality.
Taking part in regular exercise, whether it's HIIT, aerobic activities, yoga, or strength training, helps to reduce stress and anxiety, leading to improved sleep.
However, it’s best to avoid doing intense or HIIT workouts close to bedtime, as they can overstimulate the body and make it difficult to fall asleep.
Manage your stress with relaxation practices
Being able to manage your stress levels is a crucial factor in improving sleep quality. Chronic stress can lead to insomnia and disruption to your sleep patterns.
Practicing relaxation techniques, such as deep breathing exercises, progressive muscle relaxation, or mindfulness meditation, can alleviate stress and help prepare the mind and body for a restful sleep.
If you suffer from sleep disorders such as insomnia, or sleep apnea, it is vital that you address these with a GP, psychologist or sleep specialist as these can persist and cause ongoing issues. Seeking professional medical advice and treatment can make a significant difference to your overall well-being.
The impact of technology on sleep
While we’re all attached to our phones, unfortunately, they can impact our sleep quality. The blue light emitted by devices (like phones, tablets and computers) interferes with the production of the sleep hormone melatonin, making it harder to fall asleep.
Try to have a digital detox before bedtime by avoiding screens, or if you must use a screen then try using glasses with blue light filters which can help reduce the negative impact of blue light.
Sleep is an essential aspect of life that directly affects our physical health, mental well-being, and overall productivity.
By making our sleep a priority we’re not only improving our individual well-being but also being an all-round better human to those around us. Being well-rested means we’re better able to cope with day-to-day stresses and build stronger relationships with friends and family.