Why do we really need to get the zzzz’s?
Sleep… We all love it and need it but why is it so important to our bodies and our mental health?!
Did you know that we spend around a third of our lives sleeping – that is 25 years on average!
Sleep is so very important to our bodies. It is when the body recovers, cells renew, your brain is sorted and your sympathetic nervous system gets to chill.
Sleep is very much the forgotten pillar of health – we always hear about how important nutrition and exercise is for the body but sleep is just as (if not MORE) important. Sleep is very quick to be neglected but is fundamental to life.
It really is more than just a way of just recharging but time when the brain makes sense of all of the memories and information we have obtained throughout the day, Like housekeeping, it is almost like the brain is cleaning itself.
Sleep can be described in 2 stages;
- Non-rapid eye movement (NREM)
- Rapid eye movement (REM)
Most of our sleep (around 75 to 80 per cent) is NREM, characterised by electrical patterns in the brain known as ‘sleep spindles’. This is the time we sleep the deepest.
REM sleep accounts for around 25% of our sleep, which tends to be when we dream, muscles within the body are relaxed, eyes move back and forth under the eyelids. This provides energy to the brain and body to support our activity during the day.
But, how much sleep do we need?
But, how much sleep does a person need I hear you ask …. everyone is different – but it is recommended around 7-9 hours for adults.
So, what happens if we are not getting enough sleep?
Sleep is essential for general health, including BOTH physical and mental health. This is the time the body repairs injuries, grows and gains energy. Lack of sleep can lead to poor concentration and memory, affect your ability to function in day to day duties, get along with people, rationalise decisions, mood swings, irritability and can actually be quite dangerous when it comes to physical coordination such as driving.
Here are some tips that can help improve your sleep hygiene
- Avoid caffeine and nicotine – this includes, soft drinks and chocolate at least 4-6 hours before bed time as they act as stimulants to the body
- Avoid alcohol – most people find alcohol a relaxant, but, it actually affects the quality of sleep
- Try to use your bed for sleeping, relaxation and special cuddles 😉 – you need your body to know that this is not a place to read, watch tv or eat in – just for sleep
- Keep your bedroom cool, dark and quiet as much as possible – use curtains, blinds, eye mask, ear plugs to block out any light and noise
- Eating a balanced diet and not eating a heavy meal just before bed – give your body time to digest before sleep time
- Regular exercise helps the body to sleep – but try not to have strenuous exercise 4 hours before sleep time
- Try doing some gentle stretching exercises, yoga or breathing exercises and/or mediation for at least 15-20 minutes before bed
- A caffeine free herbal tea may help to relax you
- Put your mobile phone down – looking at screens before bed makes it harder for you to get to sleep, looking at your phone at bedtime messing with your body clock and you will feel less like sleeping even though your body wants to sleep
- If you can’t get to sleep, don’t panic – just get up and try again in half an hour or so
- Remember, if you or someone you know is struggling to sleep on a regular basis – consult your doctor in case of a sleeping disorder
My main take home message: sleep is the base of which a healthy mind and body are built, if that base is wobbly, many components of health and well-being suffer.