Sleep – what is it good for? Absolutely everything!
Dr Elizabeth Thompson – CEO and Holistic Doctor
I don’t know about you, but I tend to hit the snooze button a few times each morning when my alarm goes off, just to get that extra dozing time. But I can still wake up feeling as if I’ve hardly slept at all!
How long you sleep is of course important (7-9 hours is ideal for adults), but you need to think about the quality of your sleep for it to be properly restorative.
Poor sleep doesn’t just hinder memory, mood and concentration during the day, it can significantly impact your physical and mental health too. It suppresses your immune system and promotes inflammation in the body, it can lead to cardiovascular problems, obesity and diabetes, it can heighten anxiety and cause or exacerbate depression.
If you’re struggling with sleep, read on for 10 more top tips that can really help. But first, some interesting facts…
Five Facts About Sleep
- Did you know that when you sleep your brain is going through its own wash cycle? Researchers at Boston University found that during sleep, the cerebrospinal fluid – which is present in the brain and spinal cord – washes in and out like waves. This helps the brain get rid of accumulated metabolic waste.
- You have several ‘sleep cycles’ each night – four to five is an ideal amount. Each cycle last on average 90 minutes and comprises four stages of sleep. How much time is spent asleep in each sleep stage changes as the night progresses. Each stage is progressively a deeper state of sleep. Stages 1-3 are non-REM sleep, stage 4 is REM sleep. You ‘wake up’ after stage 4 when the cycle finishes and go back to stage 1 – you might not be aware of waking up because it can be momentary, or it might be when you get up to have a drink or go to the loo.
- The Circadian Rhythm is our biological clock that regulates the sleep-wake cycle. Our bodies are naturally primed to wake up with daylight and go to sleep when it’s dark. When our eyes perceive that there is not enough light the pineal gland in our brain is stimulated. This produces melatonin which is what makes us tired and helps us go to sleep.
- If you’re not getting enough good quality sleep, active rest is something that can really help. Managing your energy levels over a 24hour period and finding ways to rest the brain help your body enter its ‘parasympathetic state’ which is when the healing processes kick in. Resting might look like taking a nap – but there are other things that can help to rest the brain such as spending time outdoors, slow, deep breathing, listening to soothing music, or writing in a journal. Each of these activities cause a physiological response in the brain which soothes your body’s nervous system.
- The key to effective weight loss is sleep, rather than just calorie restriction. Sleep deprivation has a huge impact on how your body metabolises carbohydrates (sugars). A lack of sleep increases the production of the hormone ghrelin which activates the conversion of sugar into fat cells and stimulates your appetite. Ghrelin isn’t a hormone that can be directly controlled with drugs, diets or supplements…so get some zzzzz!
10 things you can do today to help if you’re struggling with sleep
- Reduce your caffeine intake – try keeping caffeine to morning time only because it is a psychoactive stimulant and blocks the production of chemicals which tell your body to go to sleep. Try herbal teas such as chamomile, tulsi or lemon balm which relax the body.
- Are you getting enough exercise? Going for a daily walk can really help with good sleep – the combination of fresh air, Vitamin D from the sun, and movement all help.
- Try taking a short nap in the early afternoon – 10-20 minutes can make a real difference to your mood and energy levels.
- Avoid blue light from devices in the hours before bedtime because it tricks your brain into staying awake. Try keeping your phone outside the bedroom and don’t use it as an alarm clock!
- Reduce ‘commotion’ – if your emotions are stirred up for example by watching late night news you will find it harder to sleep.
- Try meditation or some slow deep breathing before bedtime – this will slow your brain waves down.
- Eat some tart cherries – these contain anthocyanins which increase the production of melatonin and support sleep duration and quality.
- Smell some lavender – this has a sedative effect on your amygdala and helps to make you feel sleepy. The amygdala is part of the brain that is key when it comes to processing strong emotions like fear and pleasure.
- Give yourself a massage (or ask someone else to!) – this lowers levels of cortisol, the stress hormone.
- Consider how you can create a good ‘sleep hygiene’, i.e. your sleep habits and environment – do you go to bed and get up at the same time each day, how dark, quiet and cool is your room, are your pillows and mattress comfortable and supportive, do you have a wind-down routine?
If, like me you sometimes don’t feel rested when you wake up even if you think you’re getting a long sleep, look at what else is happening in your life and draining your energy. Once you’ve identified what is stressing your body or your brain you can try to tackle it.
Alternatively, you might be getting too much sleep and having a ‘sleep hangover’. Try knocking off a sleep cycle, i.e. waking up 90 minutes earlier than usual, and see if you feel better.
NB – if you find that you are regularly sleepy during the day or think that you might have a sleep disorder like insomnia or sleep apnoea (when you momentarily stop breathing while you sleep), it’s important to act and seek professional healthcare advice.
Book an appointment with one of our Holistic Doctors today to help you to identify and address the underlying issues causing any sleep disorders.
We want you to achieve more restorative sleep and better overall health.