Besides me talking about a healthy diet and exercise regime, you’ll often hear me speak about the benefits of sleep, and why it’s so important to get enough shut-eye every single night.
We all underestimate the power of sleep – and sometimes feel proud that we can “survive” on as little as 5 hours a night. But the truth is, sleep governs your whole body and overall health.
I’ve always needed more sleep to feel refreshed and energised for the next day, and I can honestly say that having a newborn and waking every 3 hours for feeds was one of the hardest things I’ve had to do in my life!
On the days where I had less sleep the night before, I felt groggy, irritable and on the verge of getting sick – I’d have a sore throat and a pounding headache. If you’re in this stage of your life right now, I feel you mama! Just know, it does get easier.
Research shows that poor sleep has been linked to plenty of health problems including:
- Weight gain
- Increased risk of heart disease and strokes
- Impaired cognitive brain function
- Increased risk of type 2 diabetes
- Impaired social skills
- Impaired immune function
- Increased inflammation and cell damage
According to Harvard Health, sleep is also directly linked to mood. Poor sleep can lead to anger, irritability and may lessen your ability to cope with stress. Plus it’s been found to increase your chances of developing a mood disorder such as anxiety and depression.
How does sleep affect your hormones?
When it comes to balancing your body’s hormones, adequate sleep is key. It helps to regulate your growth hormone, which is essential for growth and tissue repair. Sleep deprivation also affects your levels of prolactin, which can result in a weakened immune system, difficulty concentrating and carbohydrate cravings.
Between 12am and 2am, your body secretes melatonin, the sleep hormone. If you sleep after midnight, this hormone won’t be secreted properly, which can have a compounding effect on other critical hormones in the body. A lack of melatonin increases the stress hormones, adrenalin and cortisol, which, in turn, increases anxiety and fat-storage.
You can also blame those late-night food cravings on sleep deprivation. This is because the hormones that are associated with appetite and satiety, ghrelin and leptin respectively, are also thrown out by a lack of sleep. Feeling tired can also impair your brain’s decision-making abilities, leaving you prone to making poor dietary decisions.
How much sleep do you need?
If you’re 18 or older, the ideal amount of sleep is between 7 and 9 hours per night. However, it’s not entirely about how many hours of shut-eye you get, it’s also about the quality of sleep that’s needed to rejuvenate your body and mind.
Frequent waking, during 8 hours of sleep, can affect the quality of your sleep and leave you feeling utterly exhausted the following day. 6 hours of solid sleep is better.
Tips to help you sleep better
The key is to focus on both the quantity and quality of sleep you get. If, like me, you struggle to fall asleep or stay asleep some nights, there are a few simple daily habits that can help. However, if you think you have a chronic issue, you should seek medical help.
Work out a sleep schedule
Your body loves routine! Regulate your circadian rhythms, and help your body adapt to an internal clock. Once your body adjusts to this new rhythm, you’ll feel sleepy at bedtime and more awake in the morning. This is also a great way to make sure you’re waking up at a reasonable time every day.
To establish the right sleep schedule for you, work backwards. Find out what time you need to be awake in the morning, establish what your ideal amount of sleep should be and find your bedtime. I know it’s tempting to sleep in on the weekends but try to stick to your schedule. Your body will thank you for it during the week.
Caffeine has lasting effects that can wreak havoc with sleep. The stimulant not only causes difficulty falling asleep, but also frequent wakings throughout the night. Alcohol can also decrease your quality of sleep. Although a drink may make you feel sleepy initially, this effect doesn’t last as it has a direct impact on your REM sleep.
Cigarettes, while being extremely unhealthy for many other reasons, are also bad for sleep quality. If you don’t totally eliminate caffeine, alcohol and cigarettes, limit how much you consume and steer clear of having them around bedtime.
Eat an early dinner
Eating a late dinner or snacking before bed can also affect your sleep. This is because it activates your digestive system, which can keep you awake. Drinking too many fluids can also interrupt your sleep – frequent visits to the bathroom throughout the night is not fun! Try to eat lighter meals earlier in the evenings and avoid eating or drinking right before bed.
According to the National Sleep Foundation, it’s normal to feel a little sleepy most afternoons because our circadian rhythm dips between 1pm and 3pm. If you have to take a nap, it’s best to keep it short (20-30 minutes) and don’t nap later in the afternoon as this can throw your sleep schedule out of whack.
Move your body
Regular exercise is one of the best things you can do to improve sleep quality and duration. Rebounding is particularly great for sleep! This is because jumping on a mini trampoline helps you relax and slows brainwave activity. It also helps to align the left and right brain and stimulate your recovery processes while you sleep.
Exercise also eliminates adrenalin, the stress hormone, from your body. After a stressful day, sometimes I need to just do some light exercise before bed to burn off excess energy and adrenalin. It always helps me sleep better.
But, beware of exercising too close to bedtime as it can make you feel energised. If you prefer building up a sweat later in the day, make sure you’re done at least 3 hours before bedtime.
Optimise your sleep environment
Train your body to associate your bedroom with sleep and relaxation only. Limit eating and working in bed. Doing other activities in bed makes your mind associate your bed with alertness, making it more difficult to relax and unwind.
Keep your bedroom as quiet, cool and dark as possible. A cool room ensures deeper sleep, but make sure you have blankets to keep your body warm. Darkness increases your body’s production of melatonin, making it easier to fall and stay asleep.
We sleep for one third of our lives, so it makes sense to invest in a good quality bed! Make sure you have the right mattress and pillows for maximum comfort.
Try to limit screen time before bed. The blue light emitted from a screen makes the body more awake, because it associates light with wakefulness. Rather unwind with a book before bedtime.
Manage your stress and anxiety
There are numerous relaxation techniques you can also incorporate you’re your night-time routine to make sure you’re stress-free when it’s time for bed:
- Meditate - try the Boga Programme (click HERE to find out more)
- Try breathing techniques
- Take a hot bath or shower with essential oils
- Drink a cup of herbal tea such as chamomile or valerian
- Read a book
- Listen to calming music