Why is sleep so important?

The 15th March is World Sleep Day, in celebration we take a look why sleep matters so much and how to improve the quality of the sleep you do get!

Why is sleep important?

We all know we tend to feel our best when we’ve had a good night’s sleep, from feeling more alert to being able to seemingly cope better with stressful situations.

The more scientists have studied sleep, the more important it has been recognised to be. From improving memory, supporting our immune system and sustaining a healthy weight, sleep is incredibly important in maintaining our well being. In this blog we delve into some of these sleep health benefits as well as giving you some tips and tricks on how to get a better night’s sleep!

Why is eight hours of sleep recommended?

Firstly, we’ve all heard that eight hours of sleep is the magic number, but why eight hours?

Eight hours is commonly the recommended amount of sleep applied across the general population, but individuals will need more or less sleep depending on their age. Some younger people, such as teenagers may need more sleep, as they are growing, whereas middle aged people might need less, these different amounts of sleep average out at eight hours across the general population. Which means generally eight hours is a good amount of time to aim for.

So, what are some of the benefits of getting enough sleep?

Sleep supports your immune system

We have all experienced not getting enough sleep and being run down leading onto more health problems such as flu and colds. This isn’t a co-incidence, there’s evidence that quality sleep directly ties in with the health of your immune system.

“Researchers at the University of Washington took blood samples from 11 pairs of identical twins with different sleep patterns and discovered that the twin with shorter sleep duration had a depressed immune system, compared with his or her sibling.” – Science Daily

Sleep can support gut health

You may not associate your diet not going well with lack of sleep, but research has shown that not getting enough sleep is linked with being less able to lose weight.

A study carried out by the Kaiser Permanente Centre for Health Research (Portland, USA) showed that people who had less than six hours sleep were less likely to lose weight than those who had between six and eight hours.

Experts have also started linking sleep to gut health. A study carried out in 2016 looked at the effects of sleep on the microbiome. The findings showed short term sleep loss induced subtle changes in the microbiome within just a few days.

The microbiome is a vast ecosystem of organisms such as bacteria, yeasts, fungi, viruses and protozoans that live in our digestive tract. These micro-organisms are vital for breaking down food and toxins, meaning subtle changes could make a big difference.

Sleep can improve your memory

Studies have shown that sleep improves long-term memory by strengthening neural connections.

Not only does the brain consolidate memories in sleep, but it also forgets and deprioritises un-necessary memories, essentially cleaning them out. Not only does the brain reinforce memories in sleep, but it also triggers overnight learning. In a study conducted in 2005 participants were given motor memory tasks. The participants who slept in-between improved at their tasks, whereas participants who didn’t sleep in-between showed no such improvement.

So, what steps can you take to get a better night’s sleep?

1. Reduce your caffeine intake in the evening

It might be tempting to have that warming cup of tea curled up on the sofa before you go to bed. But increasing your caffeine levels just before sleep can prevent you getting a good night’s rest, the stimulating effects of caffeine cause alertness right away in the brain and your heart rate to increase. One study showed that consuming caffeine up to six hours before bed had adverse effects on sleep quality.

2. Use your mobile phone less near bedtime

It’s been shown that using mobile devices or watching T.V. right before bed can lead to less quality sleep. Mobile phones, TV’s and tablet devices all emit blue light which tricks your body into thinking it’s still daytime. Your body runs on its own biological clock, which is called the circadian rhythm. Your circadian rhythm effects sleep, brain activity and hormone production.

Because too much blue light tricks your body into thinking it’s daytime, this in turn effects your circadian rhythm. So, not only can looking at too much blue light before bed impact sleep, it can also change hormone production and brain activity.

3. Make your bedroom into a haven

It makes sense that to get a good nights’ sleep you want to make sure your bedroom is a place you want to be.

Some tips to turn your bedroom into a relaxing environment include freeing it from stressful clutter, making sure you have proper blinds or curtains to block out light from traffic or street lights, and reducing noise from the outside if possible too. You could also try writing down your thoughts in a diary to free your mind from the thoughts of the day.

Your bedroom should also be a few degrees colder than the rest of your house, as people tend to sleep better in a cool dark room.

You should also try and make your bedroom a tech free place. If possible don’t work on your laptop in your bedroom or check your phone whilst in bed.

4. Exercise regularly

Not only does regular exercise improve your overall health, but it can also enhance sleep. People who exercise regularly report better sleep than those who don’t, however, some people have reported exercising too close to bedtime can have the opposite effect, keeping them up. Try out exercising at different times and see what works for you.

It’s hard to stress enough the importance of having a good sleep hygiene routine and the benefits getting enough sleep brings for improving your overall well-being.

However, if you’re finding it impossible to sleep or you experience continued disturbed sleep, there may be a deeper underlying issue and you should go and see your GP.

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