The most underrated health habit

Have you found yourself not being able to function the way you would like to? Despite eating well and living a healthy lifestyle, you still have mood swings, are sluggish and are just generally not yourself. Well the good news is you are not alone, and the fix is quite simple – just get better sleep.

The statistics on sleep aren’t great. More than a third of the world’s adult population doesn’t get enough sleep. Not getting your daily dose of seven- to nine-hours will result in more difficulties in performing daily tasks, and make you more impulsive with your dietary choices.

Occasional sleep loss may make us more irritable and lack focus, however, constant sleepless nights are more insidious. Individuals with poor sleep hygiene often suffer from heart disease, obesity, depression and high blood pressure.

What poor sleep can do to you

  • Diminished mental abilities

– Experience and learning during the day gets cemented during sleep. Disturbance during this process can cause:

  1. Impaired judgement
  2. Confusion
  3. Inability to concentrate and focus
  4. Poor memory

  • Mood swings

– During sleep new neurotransmitters are produced and hormone production is regulated. Interruption in this process could cause:

  1. Increased stress
  2. Impaired emotion regulation
  3. Risk of depression

  • Susceptibility to sickness

– Sleep deprivation suppresses the immune system, leading to a decrease in T-cell count (the cells that identify and kill infected cells) and an increase in inflammations, resulting in:

  1. Slower response to virus and bacterial infection
  2. Increased risk in heart disease due to inflammation
  3. High risk of getting sick

  • Weight gain / Difficulty in losing weight

– Lack of sleep appears also to stimulate appetite. According to two 2004 studies by University of Chicago and Stanford University people who get less than six hours of sleep a day were 50 – 70 per cent more likely to become obese than those that sleep seven to nine hours a day. Sleep loss can cause:

  1. Increased levels of ghrelin (a hormone that stimulates hunger) and decreased quantities leptin (signals satiety to the brain) resulting in that “constantly hungry” feeling
  2. Cravings for high fat and high carbohydrate foods leading to a higher calorie intake
  3. Irregular appetite regulation

  • Fatigue

– When we sleep, neurotransmitters are renewed and energy-draining metabolites removed. Disruption to this process can cause:

  1. Slower reaction time
  2. Decreased central nervous system activity
  3. Depression
  4. Low energy and endurance capacity
  5. Low desire to stay active

Tips for preparing for a good night’s sleep

Believe or not, your way to a good night’s sleep starts first thing in the morning. Here are some tips on how you can prepare for a night of better Zs.

  • Wake at the right time

– Getting up from a light sleep will make you feel better and lighter. Plan your sleep time ahead so you’ll have a good seven to nine hours of sleep.

  • Let the sun wake you up

– Light naturally raises the hormone cortisol and controls melatonin the hormone responsible for regulating your circadian rhythm (your body’s natural clock).. This helps your body stay awake during the day and gear down at night.

  • Move right away

Movement will speed up the waking process while hitting the snooze button will make you even more reluctant to get up, thereby increasing “sleep inertia”.

  • Limit alcohol and caffeine intake

Avoid consuming caffeine after 2pm. According to findings, although alcohol may seem to help to induce sleep, it also reduces rapid eye movement (REM) sleep (the lack of which impairs your ability to learn complex tasks). Disruptions in REM sleep may cause daytime drowsiness and poor concentration.

  • Exercise

Exercise helps your body regulate its circadian rhythm, improve hormone levels and enhance the fight-or-flight system. Be careful of exercising late in the evening, however, as it may make it harder for you to sleep.

  • Eat a small to medium dinner

– It is harder to sleep when you feel full. Choose whole foods or minimally processed food with the right blend of proteins, carbs and fat to keep you satisfied until the next morning and slow-digesting carbs such as yams, wild rice and beans to help you feel sleepy.

  • Limit fluid intake

– Reduce sleep disrupting bathroom breaks by decreasing your liquid intake after 7 pm.

  • Clear your mind

– Try to clear your mind by writing down whatever you have inside your head before going to sleep. This will prepare you for bedtime.

  • Turn off electronics

– Artificial light interferes with our melatonin production – the body clock regulator. Refraining from looking at electronic devices at least 30 minutes before bed, will help you relax.

  • Take a hot shower / bath

– Warm water is a natural sedative. A 10-minute hot shower or bath can help your body and mind wind down a good night’s rest.

  • Sleep in a cool room

– Our body temperature fluctuates throughout the day, peaking in the early afternoon and dropping to around 5 am. Sleeping in a cool room aids the body’s natural cooling down process to encourage deeper sleep.

  • Switch the lights off

– Keep your room as dark as possible to maximise melatonin production and make it easier to fall asleep.

If you have had months of sleepless nights, you will accumulate a significant sleep debt which cannot be “paid back” in a single early night. Try adding an hour or two to your sleep cycle during the weekends. Go to bed when your body is tired and let your body wake up the next morning without setting the alarm, Aim for upwards of 10 hours of sleep in the beginning and this should normalise your sleep needs.

Comments are closed.