The Importance of a Good Forty Winks
A good night’s sleep can be a real game-changer.
That elusive fully rested sensation after a full forty winks is one of the best feelings in the world and with good reason!
Sleep is one of the most important recovery mechanisms available to our body and getting consistent high-quality sleep can be very beneficial to our health and wellness.
In the midst of this global pandemic, it super important now more than ever that we look after our health in whatever way we can and sleep is a big piece of that puzzle.
For some of us, our daily routines have been completely thrown out of whack and restoring our regular sleeping patterns can help us start to reclaim some of that routine and sense of normality.
In this blog, we will go over some of the reasons why we need to manage our sleep properly and how we can do this.
Hopefully by the end of this piece you will have a better idea of how to set yourself up for the best chance a full night's sleep every time you hit the hay!
(DISCLAIMER: If you have young children that intentionally wake you up multiple times a night, then I apologise in advance, as unfortunately there is absolutely nothing I can do for you haha!!!)
To dig a little bit deeper ....
A review in 2012 (Luyster et al., 2012) highlighted the importance of sleep for our health and explained in detail how deficient sleep patterns can negatively affect our health in a variety of ways.
To give some background, sleep is divided into two distinct phases: Rapid eye movement (REM) sleep and Non-REM sleep (NREM).
During a full night’s sleep, the body will alternate between the two phases over four to six different cycles, with each lasting 90-110 minutes.
NREM sleep is essentially our deeper, more restful stage of sleeping, which itself is broken into three stages. Without getting into too much detail here, we experience a deeper, more restorative sleep as we move through these stages.
REM sleep on the other hand shows signs more akin to “dozing off” essentially where our threshold for waking is lower and we occasionally will experience rapid eye movement and some mixed frequency brain activity.
(The 4 Stages of Sleep (NREM and REM Sleep Cycles), 2020)
The reason that this is interesting is that we can really see the variety of functions that sleep performs that directly relate to our health.
For instance, a lack of the third stage of NREM sleep, our most restful phase of sleep, is related to increased risk of cardiovascular disease (Fung et al., 2011).
That means that by burning the candle on both ends you are more likely to have high blood pressure, an irregular heartbeat, a stroke and or a full blown heart attack!
What makes this information particularly valuable or topical in this current climate (widespread outbreak of Covid-19) is the negative effect that shortened sleep can have on our overall health, and thus our chances of fighting off the virus should we contract it.
It really starts to put things into perspective doesn’t it?
We are generally recommended to get 6-8 hours of sleep per night, but this value varies depending on our age (Hirshkowitz et al., 2015).
For adults it is recommended that we get 7-9 hours of sleep each night, while for toddlers the recommendation is as high as 11-14 hours per day, with newborns and infants even higher still.
Sleep recommendations generally follow this trend: the younger we are, the more sleep we need.
The sleep recommendation for older adults though was 6-8 hours per night, so we can see that less than 6 hours of sleep each night means we are technically sleep deprived and our immune system will not be firing on all cylinders.
During periods of “sleep deprivation”, or essentially extended periods of time without enough sleep, people can experience disruptions to some of the different types of cells that help our immune system to function (e.g. inflammatory cytokines and serum immunoglobulins) (Opal and DePalo, 2000; Furst, 2009).
These along with some other negative effects that a lack of sleep can have on our immune system can lead to a strain on our body that ultimately makes us more likely to get sick (Luyster et al., 2012).
(The State of SleepHealth in America - SleepHealth, 2020)
So, what can you do to help yourself get a better night’s sleep?
Here are some simple tips around sleep hygiene that might help you:
1 - Avoid caffeine late in the day when you can, as this can negatively impact your sleep when taken close to bedtime (Nicholson and Stone, 1980). Keep in mind that caffeine can have a half-life of between 3-7 hours, so it stays in your system for a long time (Roehrs and Roth, 2008)
2 - Steer clear of nicotine as best you can. I know for people that are smokers it is far easier said than done, but there are links between nicotine use and poorer sleep quality (Jaehne et al., 2009)
3 - Regular exercise promotes better sleep quality, both in the night following the exercise (Kubitz et al., 1996) and in the long-term should we continue to exercise regularly (Kubitz et al., 1996; Driver and Taylor, 2000)
4 - Going to sleep and waking up at a regular time can help to support better sleep. By establishing a sleep pattern that is fairly well-tuned with our circadian rhythm (our body’s natural fluctuations in hormones throughout the day), we can give ourselves a better chance of a good night’s sleep (Monk et al., 2003).
5 - Avoiding stress can help to get us sleeping better, as the kind of “psychosocial stress” (as the cool kids call it) that we can experience in our day-to-day lives has been shown to negatively affect our sleep (Kim and Dimsdale, 2007). What can help with this are meditation practices, walking with no phone, or other activities that promote mindfulness, which have shown promise in improving our sleep (Brand et al., 2012).
As highlighted in a review on sleep hygiene by Irish et al. (2015), sleep hygiene isn’t a magic pill that will instantly make us fall asleep at whim, but there is most definitely some good advice in there for us to make use of.
If there are some new lifestyle practices highlighted here that you think you could benefit from then try implement them into your daily routine one step at a time.
My favourite piece of advice on this, personally speaking, is making things easier for you by going with a “path of least resistance approach”.
The accumulation and implementation of small habits that lead to big changes are the key to getting long term results.
Using myself as an example, I wanted to start reading a bit before bed every night to make sure I got a little more reading done each day and to help me sleep.
Best way to do that: leave a book sitting on my pillow when I make my bed. So when I’m about to turn in it’s sitting right there so I might as well read it. I would have to go out of my way to not read it then.
That’s just one, admittedly very simple, example of how we can set ourselves up to successfully implement new habits that, in this case, will help us get a good night’s sleep every night and promote increased health and wellbeing.
Now we know why we need to sleep, how much sleep we ought to get and how to do it, we just need to behave accordingly and make sleep a priority - your mental and physical health will thank you for it!
Brand, S., Holsboer-Trachsler, E., Naranjo, J.R. and Schmidt, S. (2012). Influence of mindfulness practice on cortisol and sleep in long-term and short-term meditators. Neuropsychobiology, 65, pp.109-118.
Clear, J., 2018. Atomic Habits: Tiny Changes, Remarkable Results. [Place of publication not identified]: Penguin Publishing Group.
Driver, H.S. and Taylor, S.R. (2000). Exercise and sleep: Sleep Medicine Reviews, 4(4), pp.387-402.
Fung, M.M., Peters, K., Redline, S., Ziegler, M.G., Ancoli-Israel, S., Barrett-Connor, E., Stone, K.L. and Osteoporotic Fractures in Men Research Group (2011). Decreased slow wave sleep increases risk of developing hypertension in elderly men. Hypertension, 58(4), pp.596-603.
Furst, D.E. (2009). August. Serum immunoglobulins and risk of infection: how low can you go?. In Seminars in arthritis and rheumatism (Vol. 39, No. 1, pp. 18-29). WB Saunders.
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Irish, L.A., Kline, C.E., Gunn, H.E., Buysse, D.J. and Hall, M.H. (2015). The role of sleep hygiene in promoting public health: A review of empirical evidence. Sleep Medical Review, 22, pp.23-36.
Jaehne, A., Loessl, B., Bárkai, Z., Riemann, D. and Hornyak, M. (2009). Effects of nicotine on sleep during consumption, withdrawal and replacement therapy. Sleep Medicine Reviews, 13, pp.363-377.
Kim, E. and Dimsdale, J.E. (2007). The effect of psychosocial stress on sleep: A review of polysomnographic evidence. Behavioural Sleep Medicine, 5(4), pp.256-278.
Kubitz, K.A., Landers, D.M., Petruzzello, S.J. and Han, M. (1996). The effects of acute and chronic exercise on sleep: A meta-analytic review. Sports Medicine, 21(4), pp.277-291.
Luyster, F.S., Strollo Jr., P.J., Zee, P.C. and Walsh, J.K. (2012). Sleep: A health imperative. Sleep, 35(6), pp.727-734.
Masri, S. and Sassone-Corsi, P. (2018). The emerging link between cancer, metabolism and circadian rhythms. Nature Medicine, 24(12), pp.1795-1803.
Monk, T.H., Reynolds III, C.F., Buysse, D.J., DeGrazia, J.M. and Kupfer, D.J. (2003). The relationship between lifestyle regularity and subjective sleep quality. Chronobiology International, 20, pp.97-107.
Nicholson, A.N. and Stone, B.M. (1980). Heterocyclic amphetamine derivatives and caffeine on sleep in man. British Journal of Clinical Pharmacology, 9(2), pp.195-203.
Opal, S.M. and DePalo, V.A. (2000). Anti-inflammatory cytokines. Chest, 117(4), pp.1162-1172.
Roehrs, T. and Roth, T. (2008). Caffeine: Sleep and daytime sleepiness. Sleep Medicine Reviews, 12, pp.153-162.
SleepHealth. 2020. The State Of Sleephealth In America - Sleephealth. [online] Available at: <https://www.sleephealth.org/sleep-health/the-state-of-sleephealth-in-america/> [Accessed 22 April 2020].
Verywell Health. 2020. The 4 Stages Of Sleep (NREM And REM Sleep Cycles). [online] Available at: <https://www.verywellhealth.com/the-four-stages-of-sleep-2795920> [Accessed 22 April 2020].
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