Why is sleep important?

Getting a good night’s sleep is important for your overall health.

It allows your body to recharge and fight infections by producing protein molecules while you sleep.

It can assists with reducing stress and blood pressure, increase your recovery from an injury and puts you in a better mood overall.

So not getting enough sleep can have short and long term effects on your health such as:

  • Interrupting hormone production
  • Reducing your immune system
  • Increasing your risk of developing cardiovascular disease
  • Disrupting your memory from retaining information

Understanding your sleep

Sleep occurs in a series of REM and non-REM sleep stages throughout the night, often referred to as ultradian rhythms.

REM – Rapid Eye Movement

Is a phase of sleep where you are experiencing rapid eye movement, muscle paralysis, brain waves similar to if you were awake and the tendency to have vivid dreams. This tends to occur after a number of cycles of Non-REM stages.

Non-REM – Non Rapid Eye Movement

Relates to more of a deeper sleep. Non-REM sees the body temperature drop, heart rate fall and the brain not using as much energy as it normally would. Non-REM can be broken into three stages: 1 / 2 / 3.

Sleep Cycles

Normally each sleep cycle would go through the Non-REM stages 1 > 2 > 3 followed by a period of slow wave sleep, then go back through Non-REM 3 > 2 > 1 followed by a REM stage. This may occur a number of times throughout the night depending on the individual.

Typically as the night progresses there is less time spent in Stage 3 Non-REM sleep and more time in REM sleep.

What can affect sleep?

Nowadays people are naturally sleeping less and unfortunately getting less quality sleep as well.

Obvious factors such as work related stress, working night shifts, travelling especially long distances and stimulants such as caffeine and alcohol can impact the quality of sleep that you have.

Other things to consider when going through a period of bad sleep are:

Blue light

Blue light and light in general could be seen as the main external factor that impacts sleep. Regular light can trick our internal clock into thinking it’s still daytime and so delays our sleep pattern.

With smartphones and tablets being a constant in our lives these days, spending time on them at night also has a knock on effect as it can reset our internal clocks from thinking it’s night and thus effecting getting and staying asleep.

Psychological conditions

Anxiety, stress and depression are common factors that affect sleep, they can delay falling asleep. And when you do fall asleep, they can keep you in a light stage or REM stage making it a restful sleep.

Diet

What you eat and drink can have an impact on your sleep along with the timing of it too.

Stimulants such as coffee and sugar can assist with delaying sleep cycles and actually decreases the quality of sleep.

Alcohol although usually used as a sleep aid also results in a decreased quality of sleep.

Eating a large meal before heading to bed can result in a disrupted sleep as well, so try eating two to three hours beforehand instead.

Medical conditions

Some conditions such as chronic pain, liver disease and medicines that you may be taking come also result in decreased quality of sleep.

How to improve you sleep

Besides addressing some of the elements mentioned above there are some at home wins you can try:

  1. Create a sleep routine – which you follow every night in the build up to going to bed
  2. Phone free time – build this into your routine that you avoid using your phone, or computer/tablet, in the lead up to heading to bed
  3. Meditate – take some time out whether it’s during the day or before to bed to clear your head
  4. Lower the temperature – reduce the temperature in your room, the warmer it is the tougher it can be to fall asleep
  5. Relax – whether this is by listening to music, a podcast or an app, reading a book or journaling your thoughts, if there is something that you can do to help you relax do it

And if all else fails do speak to your GP as they can offer your advice on how to manage if not beat your restless night’s.

We may see a bad night of sleep as part of life now, however it isn’t something that we should accept as it can have long term effects which get tougher to break the longer it goes on for.

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Having always been intrigued by how body’s work, both in their day to day functions and also when things go wrong, Leanne is pursuing her passion for health. By combining her undergraduate degree in Biomedical Science and a Masters in Science communication with her love for writing, she is passing on her knowledge to Health Hub readers. Leanne strongly believes that science and health are something that should be talked about more and she hopes her articles will enable such conversations.