Have you ever heard from someone “I’ll sleep when I’m dead”? If you’re one of those lucky who reads this nonsense for the first time, then believe many people state they have so much to do that sleep can only be accomplished in death. Sadly, the lack of sleep only brings them closer to health problems or even fatality. This is because hormones, chemicals and neurotransmitters that determine our energy levels, vitality, how we feel are out of sync.
Now, let’s dig into some medical explanations and observations to understand the importance of the topic. You may not realize it, but the amount of sleep you get can affect everything from your weight and metabolism to your brain function and mood.
Sleep regulates the secretion of important hormones
Ghrelin and leptin are some of such hormones. Maybe you’ve heard that the lack of sleep is linked to overeating and obesity. Here’s why…
Ghrelin stimulates appetite, while leptin decreases it. When the body is sleep-deprived, the level of ghrelin spikes, while the level of leptin falls, leading to an increase in hunger.
Also, if you don’t sleep enough, your body secretes more cortisol, the stress hormone, which helps you stay awake. However, this leads to depression, irritability and extreme anxiety. A high level of cortisol is associated with many serious diseases, however, the cure for them is not far away – right there where your pillow is. Sleep enough and the level of this hormone will decrease.
It’s worth mentioning that at around 9 pm the level of such hormone as melatonin (the antagonist for cortisol) rises in our blood and you begin to feel less alert. Sleep becomes more inviting. Sunlight and artificial indoor lighting (even a dimly lit environment) inhibit the release of melatonin as it only comes out in the dark.
Sleep slows down the aging process
Getting the right amount of sleep helps you retain a younger look. Sleeping produces the human growth hormone, which is proven to maintain skin elasticity by producing collagen, which in turn maintains skin elasticity and prevents wrinkles.
Moreover, the lifespan depends on the quality of sleep. Getting enough sleep maintains your overall health, which may help boost your longevity. While inadequate sleep (either too little or too much) can have the opposite effect.
Sleep strengthens the immune system
Getting enough sleep is vital to supporting our immune system in fighting off pathogens. A distinct feature of those people whose sleep lasts 9 hours is in the increased activity of their white blood cells (aka natural killer cells). Their main aim is to fight with viruses, bacteria and even cancer cells. Immunologists state that just three hours without sleep are sufficient to reduce the function of important immune cells.
Sleep has beneficial effects on the brain activity
Getting the right amount of sleep helps optimize body functionality and gives you more energy throughout the day. Sleep deprivation can affect cognition, attention, concentration, working memory, decision-making and multi-tasking.
Studies show that the lack of sleep is the same as being drunk. People who are continuously awake for nineteen or more hours, when passing tests for performance and attention, show significantly worse results than people with a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) level of 0.8 ppm, that is, according to the legislation in most countries of the world, are considered to be drunk.
Finally, without sleep, your job is at risk. People tend to miss work or make professional mistakes or even behave as being drunk due to sleep deprivation.
TIPS FOR HEALTHY SLEEP
Now we know that a good night’s sleep is good for our brain and, vice versa, the lack of sleep has negative consequences. As the proverb says, forewarned is forearmed. From here on, you should use a sleep diary to keep track of your sleep schedule for at least two weeks. This will provide objective information regarding the consistency of your sleep routine as well as the association between sleep and your level of alertness during the day.
Recommendations from sleep experts from all over the world provide a road map for improving sleep hygiene. The following tips are highlighted:
Sleep for 7-9 hours a day.
According to the National Sleep Foundation, these are the general sleep guidelines for different age groups:
- Birth to 3 months: 14 to 17 hours
- 4 to 11 months: 12 to 15 hours
- 1 to 2 years: 11 to 14 hours
- 3 to 5 years: 10 to 13 hours
- 6 to 13 years: 9 to 11 hours
- 14 to 17 years: 8 to 10 hours
- 18 to 64 years: 7 to 9 hours
- 65 years and older: 7 to 8 hours
When you fall asleep, your brain and body go through several stages of sleep, to be more precise, there are 6 of them. It takes, on average, about 90 minutes to go through each cycle. If you can complete five cycles a night, you’d get 7.5 hours of sleep. Six full cycles is about 9 hours of sleep.
Ideally, you need to wake up at the end of a sleep cycle instead of in the middle of it. Then you’ll feel more refreshed and energized if you wake up at the end of a sleep cycle.
If possible, have a consistent to-bed and wake-up time, both on weekends and working days.
Avoid using electronics before bed.
Avoid television (especially horror and action movies) and gadgets (like phones or tablets) before going to bed and especially staying in bed. The blue light that comes from these screens interferes with the brain’s natural sleep rhythms and may trick your brain into thinking that it is daytime.
Evaluate your bedroom to ensure ideal temperature, sound and light.
Your bedroom should be cool – 16-24°. Air the room if necessary. It should also be free from any noise that can disturb your sleep and free from any light. Check your room for noises or other distractions. This includes a bed partner’s sleep disruptions such as snoring. Consider using blackout curtains, eyeshades, earplugs, “white noise”, humidifiers, fans and other devices.
Don’t eat heavy meals, don’t drink alcohol or caffeine close to bedtime.
Avoid stimulants (coffee, cola, chocolate, and cigarettes) and alcohol for four to six hours before going to bed. Alcohol disrupts several sleep stages, which are important for memory.
Eating big or spicy meals can cause discomfort from indigestion that can make it hard to sleep. If you can, avoid eating large meals for two to three hours before bedtime. Try a light snack 45 minutes before bed if you’re still hungry.
Practice a relaxing bedtime ritual.
Your body needs time to shift into sleep mode, so spend the last hour before bed doing a calming activity such as reading. Some people feel better prepared for sleep if they dring milk with honey or take a relaxing bath.
Sleep with comfort.
Sleep on a comfortable mattress and pillows. Make sure your mattress is comfortable and supportive. The one you have been using for years may have exceeded its life expectancy – about 9 or 10 years for most good quality mattresses. Have comfortable pillows and make the room attractive and inviting for sleep but also free of allergens that might affect you.
Vigorous exercise is best, but even light exercise is better than no activity. Exercise at any time of day, but not at the expense of your sleep. A light walk or meditation may also help before bedtime.
If you do wake during the night, don’t remain in bed struggling to fall back to sleep. Get up and do something that may increase sleepiness (like reading) for about 20 minutes, and then return to bed and try to initiate sleep.
Here’s a video bonus for you with several easy techniques that will help you to relax before sleep:
Before you make your way into your bed every night, remember to say something good about yourself. This will nourish your soul and keep you going strong. Good night!