We cannot overemphasise the importance of sleep.
Remember how you felt the last time you had a bad night’s sleep? Maybe you were too hot or too cold, had been feeling sick or perhaps something was on your mind that just wouldn’t go away.
The next day you probably were irritable or depressed, perhaps groggy and tired, or maybe even incapable of thinking clearly and instead being bound by emotions.
That’s understandable. And it can be a sign that you’re not getting the quality rest and sleep your body and mind deserves.
Sleep is a key function that allows your physical and mental self to recharge and be immediately alert when you wake up. Slumber also helps the body stay healthy and prevent illness.
The brain can’t work properly without enough rest – and this can affect your ability to concentrate, think and process memories clearly.
So, how important is sleep? Experts sometimes disagree on what exactly sleep does, and since it is not yet totally understood, there is no consensus on all the different effects of slumber and on the advantages that it gives. Yet there is general agreement that quality rest will help your physical and mental wellbeing.
Here at Take Good Care we encourage everyone to get at least eight hours of sleep a night. And here’s why…
Why sleeping is important for physical health
Our physical wellbeing becomes increasingly important as we age, as our joints and muscles work harder to repair themselves. Sleep is an important time for the physical body to relax, renew and then resume.
Sleep strengthens the immune system
Slumber is said to reverse and/or restore processes that are biochemically and physiologically depleted during our waking hours. During sleep, the body produces additional protein molecules that help restore sun-damaged cells, detoxify pollutants and ease stress.
It has also been thought to restore neurons and increase brain protein and hormone production. When you think about the importance of rest in our lives, you realise how detrimental a lack of sleep can be for our bodies.
Sleep helps control body weight
The hormones ghrelin and leptin play a role in how hungry or full we are throughout the day. And these two hormones are regulated during sleep. That is why certain sleep-deprived people may gain weight because they are hungry all the time.
Even getting into a normal sleeping pattern can be great for controlling your body weight. Staying up late can often come with eating and drinking more. One way to prevent this is to have a routine that stops you eating after dinner. This could either be by brushing your teeth early, or making herbal tea.
Sleep helps ease muscle strains
If you have a bad back or are suffering from strained muscles then a good rest – coupled with a healthy yoga or stretching routine – can greatly improve your physical wellbeing.
Rest helps give the body time to restore and regenerate muscle tissue that may have become strained. However, it is important to work out the best way to sleep if you are suffering from back or muscle pain, as sleeping in the wrong position can exacerbate the issue.
Sleep reduces chances of cancer
Cancer will affect roughly one-in-five people in the world at some point in their lives, and sleep can help prevent the disease. Of course, it’s no cure for cancer but research has found sleep duration, quality, circadian rhythm, and sleep disorders can all affect cancer rates. The data isn’t fully conclusive yet, but the general consideration is good sleep helps give your body the best chance it can to fight off disease.
Why sleeping is important for mental health
Mental wellbeing is just as important as physical wellbeing, especially as we get older. After all, interacting with other people and staying active throughout the day will benefit you in the long-run.
And our routines are also vital for maintaining a healthy, positive outlook on life. Here are some benefits of sleep on our mental wellbeing…
Sleep reduces stress
Your brain works, but at a subconscious level, while you sleep. And since your brain isn’t consciously thinking, this is the time when healthy sleepers can subconsciously process stressful events and situations, and enter the following day in a better mental place.
The control of blood pressure and cholesterol levels also contributes to reducing anxiety during the day.
Sleep boosts memory
Sleep is important for providing your brain with the time it needs to rest and process the previous day. Your brain subconsciously processes all the information gathered from the day, which can be part of the problem when you’re struggling to sleep.
Your brain effectively files away the events of the previous day, which helps clear the slate for a new start and makes it easier to retrieve information in the future.
Sleep aids emotional wellbeing
Being in tune with your emotions and understanding how to live with them is important to leading a happy life. Research shows rest is important to our ability to cope with emotional stress and anxiety, and helps us process these feelings. A good sleeping pattern can improve emotional clarity and control.
Tips on how to sleep better
You will have to get quality sleep if you want to be productive, have plenty of energy, be mentally alert and emotionally balanced during the day.
Researchers generally agree on the importance of sleep because it helps to regulate the level of hormones, metabolism and blood pressure, as well as the health and general mood. There is no better way than to find out every night about the importance of sleep.
But how can I sleep better? Well, just like eating and breathing, it is one of the human necessities. So it needs to take priority over other things. You’d swiftly recognise how rotten you feel if you simply stopped sleeping.
And it all starts with the brain. Here are some tips on how to clear your mind to sleep…
No phones in bed
This is something we all struggle with – the temptation to look at our phones, or watch TV on a tablet screen, in bed is often too much. Phones are addictive and are designed to keep you looking at them. Unfortunately, blue light used in phone screens tricks your brain into thinking it’s still daytime, which means you stay up longer looking at your phone or tablet, and don’t doze off.
When you finally do sleep, your brain is still active. This means it can take a while to doze off, and you might struggle to get a good, long night’s sleep. Unfortunately, waking up tired and groggy usually leads us to fall into bad habits, such as looking at our phones as soon as we open our eyes. This cycle needs to stop.
To help improve sleep, consider leaving your phone in another room, or at the other side of your bedroom if you need the alarm. You won’t miss anything – what 10pm text or whatsapp message is so urgent that it cannot wait until morning? Now you aren’t attached to your phone, you can concentrate on sleeping.
Master a sleep routine
If you’re struggling to sleep, get rid of that phone and plan a routine for going to bed. This probably starts with brushing your teeth and cleansing your face, but it might even come before then. For example, not pouring yourself an extra glass of wine after dinner is a great way to begin the sleep process, as is lighting an aromatherapy candle.
Mindfulness, yoga or even some simple stretching can get you into a routine, which means that you’re prepared yourself for bed. You might have a similar routine when you prepare for work at the start of the day: get into the office, make a coffee, switch on the computer. Well, why not do the same in the evening? Brush your teeth, stretch out, read a book, sleep.
Read a book
If you find you’re struggling without your phone in bed then a book is a far steadier resource for preparing for slumber. This is because books don’t emit blue light and the act of reading fires the imagination far better than simply gazing at a screen. Using your brain to focus on your book will help relax your mind and ease you into the night.
Some books to help with your sleep include:
Consider your temperature
Overheating or being too cold can ruin a night’s sleep, and preparing your bedroom for the evening is a must. In winter, you could decide to place a hot water bottle in the sheets at around 8pm, which means the main heat of the bottle will have spread through the bed by the time you get under the covers. In summer, keeping the curtains closed during the day and then opening a window at night will ensure your bedroom is nice and cool, so you can sleep more easily.
What’s the most important stage of sleep?
When we sleep, we pass through four stages and eventually reach REM (Rapid Eye Movement). REM is actually not when our bodies do most of their restorative work. A slumber cycle usually lasts around 90 minutes to two hours, meaning you should go through four of these in a single night.
The sleep cycle goes like this:
Stage 1 – You drift off between consciousness and unconsciousness and begin to dream, relax and occasionally twitch
Stage 2 – Your sleeping becomes deeper, your heartbeat slows and your body temperature decreases. Your muscles are now relaxed and your brain is less active.
Stage 3 – You enter deep slumber, where your brain waves, temperature and heart rate are at their lowest levels. You’re relaxed and are difficult to rouse.
Stage 4 – The healing stage, which is perhaps the most important, begins. Here, your body can repair muscle tissue, flush out toxins, release hormones and restore energy to your cells.
Stage 5 – REM. Your body temperature, blood pressure, heart rate and breathing all rise. This is where you’re likely to begin dreaming.
The fact this cycle is needed three or four times a night is why 8 hours of sleep is important.