We’re all so busy these days with hectic schedules and the demands of daily modern life that we often overlook the most simple things when it comes to our health and wellbeing. I have mentioned this before and will no doubt mention it again in future blog posts, maintaining health and vitality does not have to be hard or complicated or even time consuming. Sometimes it’s the most simple things that make the most profound differences.
The quality and quantity of sleep we have on a daily basis can have a profound effect on how healthy we are in both body and mind. It was not until I came upon How to Eat, Move and Be Healthy that I realised how important circadian rhythms are to everything from metabolism to skin conditions and general performance.
Given the perceived commitment & sacrifice many believe is necessary to improve health, sleep is without doubt one of the easiest and most pleasurable ways to increase overall health with comparably little effort.
So why is sleep so important? Basically sleep is your own personal computer’s time to reboot – whilst you’re dreaming, the human body is working on everything from your neurological performance to immune function and musculoskeletal growth. Interestingly, sleep is more important to human survival than food with most studies showing that humans can survive up to 40 days without food but no longer than 15 days without this essential daily repair mechanism.
Quantity is important with sleep too with the magic number varying from 7 – 9 hours depending on who you read (TS Wiley recommends a minimum of 9 hours in Lights Out) but what we can easily impact and may not know about is the quality.
The first step in getting quality sleep is ensuring that our sleep hormone (melatonin) is high in the evening, which means reducing anything that stimulates cortisol (which works in opposition to melatonin). All the modern conveniences such as lighting, computers, phones, tablets and general electricity are all emitting a high level of electromagnetic radiation which stimulates cortisol production in the body. Even if you feel you are sleeping well, exposure to this radiation can affect the quality of your sleep thus affecting all of the essential elements of health and wellbeing.
Thankfully, management of melatonin and cortisol are relatively easy, so essential brain and bodily function can be improved. Below are some tips to help improve the quality of your sleep –
- Reduce exposure to cortisol producing electrical appliances after 8pm – worse offenders are TVs, computers, tablets and phones as well as fluorescent lights.
- Sleep in a pitch black room (or as close to pitch black as possible). This will help keep you asleep throughout the night.
- Turn lighting down to mimic the natural light, candle light is even better in the evenings to increase melatonin levels and prepare the body for sleep.
- Turn off all electrical appliances in the bedroom, leave the phone outside of the bedroom and have a battery operated alarm clock if you cannot wake naturally.
- The ideal time to sleep is between 10.30pm and 6am.
- Reduce consumption of all stimulants after 3pm – including caffeine, alcohol and sugar as these substances spike cortisol levels.
- Eat as early as possible, aiming for dinner to be on the light side – when your body is digesting food, it can’t focus on the restoration & repair it is meant to be undertaking while you sleep.
- Reduce stress before bed time. Practicing meditation and breathing techniques work well to put the body into a relaxed state.