Lack of sleep affects us all. Just how important is sleep? By Lynsey Woolliscroft
The U.S. Center for Disease Control and Prevention believes that insufficient sleep is now a ‘public health epidemic’ and scientists at Oxford University claim that we’re getting two hours less sleep today than 60 years ago. Which in the context of an eight-hour sleep cycle, is 25% less.
We all know that sleep is a biological necessity like food, water and air. We know that when we sleep well, we function better and it is well-recognised now that even short-term sleep deprivation causes increased levels of cortisol, our ‘flight or fight’ hormone, it raises blood pressure and increases our risk of cardiovascular disease.
Mentally, sleep deprivation affects our chances of getting Alzheimer’s and depression, and sleep has a powerful effect on the immune system, which is why, when we have flu, our first instinct is to go to bed and rest.
And if that isn’t enough to make you prioritise sleep, then 87% of women agree that getting enough sleep is an important part of looking after your skin. It’s not called beauty sleep for nothing.
Sleep expert Dr. Neil Stanley who has been involved in sleep research for over 35 years and has organised some of the largest sleep studies in the world, has discovered that sleep plays a key part in the ‘Wellbeing Triangle’. This is a concept based on a balance of nutrition, exercise and sleep for optimal wellbeing.
Let’s take a quick look at the nutrition, specifically the gut, and how lack of sleep effects its function.
Our gut health can affect your quality of sleep. Poor sleep leads to an increase in appetite, fat production and weight gain by altering the hormones that control hunger and satisfaction. A poor night’s sleep can lead to a desire to consume 200-300 more calories in one day.
It is really important to note, this is not just a consequence of consistent or long-term sleep deprivation: hunger and appetite increases occur after just one night of reduced sleep.
The sleep hormone, melatonin, is the key. The good news is that the beneficial bacteria in our gut can boost the body’s supply of melatonin while the happy hormone, serotonin, is regulated in the gut and happy people sleep better as they don’t stay awake worrying about things.
Essentially, the strong presence of beneficial bacteria in our gut is crucial for restorative sleep, so let’s keep our guts healthy and choose clean foods over processed, sugary options.
Linking back to the Wellness Triangle, it’s also important to move well to facilitate sleep. Current hectic lifestyles mean our nervous system is out of balance. The sympathetic side of our nervous system is over-stimulated, and we need to re-balance this to aid sleep.
We can recalibrate our nervous system, through moving mindfully, practicing yoga or meditation, or through various massage techniques. Massage is effective at rebalancing the nervous system, especially when the movements are focused on the spine and cranial areas. Some ancient healing modalities believe the nerves supporting the autonomic nervous system can be accessed along the spine using pressure points, rocking and kneading movements thus can calm a stressed guest.
Essentially, movement is just as key as eating well and sleeping to facilitate overall wellbeing.
Below are a series of highly actionable rituals to aid a good night’s sleep.
Disconnect: Stop using electronics one hour before you sleep. This is hard to do, I know! A useful tip is to set an alarm, to remind you to switch off your device. Electronic devices emit blue light which mimics the sun and sends messages to your brain that it’s daytime. In response, your brain stops producing melatonin, the sleep hormone.
Organise Your Morning: Spend a few minutes to get prepared for the next day. Pick out what you’re wearing and make a quick to-do list. This can save you a significant amount of time and unnecessary stress in the morning.
Bathing: 73% of adults agree that bathing/showering is a good way to reduce stress. A warm bath or shower before bed aids in a better night’s sleep. Couple this with powerful sedative essential oils like vetivert, soothing camomile, grounding sandalwood, and you’ll enhance the effects of the bathing experience.
Mindful Sleep Preparation: Lay in bed, turn the lights off, and concentrate on your breathing. This will quieten the mind and aid your sleep. Try some ‘box breathing’ to quieten your mind.
The last step is to sleep. Happy dreams everyone!