Sleep takes up a significant portion of our lives, but it’s easy to underestimate its effect on our bodies and minds. We commonly sacrifice sleep to meet deadlines or in favour of getting things done — but this is far from serving us in the long term.
Our brains are constantly stimulated and working during the day. Sleep allows the brain to sort through everything we experience, refreshing our neural system to be in peak condition to do it all again the next day. Sleep essentially restores our brains, allowing us to better deal with the physical and mental stressors of life.
How much sleep you need varies at different stages of your life, however for the average adult, at least 7-7.5 hours per night is recommended. Anything less than that builds up sleep debt. The more sleep debt you have, the more you suffer the detriments of sleep deprivation on your body and mind.
Sleep Deprivation and How It Affects Us
Sleep helps regulate and bolster your immune system, which is particularly important around flu season. Being sleep deprived can make you three times as likely to get sick than if you sleep enough. It can also slow the body’s metabolism and affect our ability to burn fat to lose weight or build muscle to gain strength.
Recent studies also show that adolescent athletes who slept <8 hours on average were 1.7 times more likely to injury themselves than those who slept >8 hours. On the other end of the spectrum, elite athletes have been known to aim for up to 10 hours sleep to maximise their physical condition before competition!
Are you giving yourself the best chance to avoid future injury and illness? If not, what can you do to improve your chance of a good night’s sleep?
Tips To Get Better Sleep
Go outside during the day
Our bodies have a natural circadian rhythm — essentially our sleep/wake cycle. Typically we are awake during the day when it’s bright and we get tired during the night when it’s dark. By going outside and getting a dose of natural light during the day, you’re helping sync your body system to the proper cycle.
Dim the lights in your house before bed
By the same token, make the inside of your house darker by dimming or turning out lights in the evening. This prompts our bodies to produce a hormone called melatonin. This hormone is responsible for making us feel sleepy, so the more we have before bed, the better.
Block out blue light from devices before bed
The lighting of your phone, computer, and television emits a blue light which has been shown to reduce the production of the hormone melatonin. At least an hour before bed, turn on the blue light filter on your device which dims the brightness and warms the light from your screen (there are a plethora of apps available online for free). Better yet, turn off all electronics and let your brain get ready for sleep mode by doing a relaxing activity like reading a book.
Limit caffeine intake during the day (or better yet go without!)
We often use caffeine as a way of combating the effects of sleep deprivation, but ingesting too much can actually make our attempts to sleep at night much harder. Coffee, certain teas, chocolate, soft drinks — all have caffeine in them. Even decaf isn’t caffeine-free! Cutting caffeine out of your diet is a sure way to improve your sleep quality.
Keep your bedroom dark, cool, and quiet
Block out light completely when you are going to sleep — even the artificial light from your bedside clock. A sleep mask is a great way to ensure this. Room temperature can also affect how easily you fall asleep — aiming for around 18 – 21°C is best. Keep your room quiet with ear plugs or using a fan for white noise.
Light exercise 2-3 hours before bed
This can be an effective way of using up any extra energy you might have before you start winding down for the night. Just 15 minutes of stretching, yoga, pilates, or low impact exercise can do wonders.
Keep to a consistent bedtime
We are creatures of habit! Going to bed at a consistent time every night helps train our brain to get drowsy around the time we would normally go to sleep. Make sure you start your night routine at the same time every evening, so you’ll be in bed at the end of it without forgetting anything.
Stress and strong emotions are a significant driver of disrupting sleep. Who hasn’t been kept awake by overthinking at one time or another? Managing these thoughts and emotions can be the most effective intervention you can do to improve your quality of sleep. This can be through meditation, writing a journal, stretching, or deep breathing exercises. Try a few options to see what works for you.
So why get a good night’s sleep?
Sleep is the lynchpin that affects numerous areas of our lives. If you’re not making gains in productivity, concentration, weight loss, you’re getting sick or injured more often, you name it — try to improve your sleep. You’ll be surprised at the effects it can have on your wellbeing.