Sleep is vital
in both the prevention and recovery of many diseases. Chronic sleep deprivation has been linked in numerous research papers to poor health outcomes; these health outcomes include both psychological and physiological disorders. A review of over 150 studies recently demonstrated short sleep time to be significantly associated with diabetes, cardiovascular disease and obesity. In terms of psychological issues, regular lack of sleep lowers cognitive functioning and has been linked to the development of dementia in later life. During waking hours, toxins build up in our brains- sleep is vital to remove these toxins. Experts recommend we get 8 hours sleep per night, which is something we should all be taking seriously and aiming for as a regular part of our lifestyle. So how can we maximise our sleep quality and time?
A consistent sleep schedule is paramount to optimising sleep performance- Keep bedtime and wake-up time regular on a daily basis. Try to limit the difference in your sleep schedule on weeknights and weekends to no more than one hour. This level of consistency reinforces your body's innate sleep-wake cycle- the relationship between sleep drive and the internal body clock. Sleep drive is basically the drive to sleep that accumulates from the time you wake up and lessens during sleep. Sleep drive and our internal body clock, also known as our Circadian rhythm, are the primary modulators of sleep. With a consistent sleep schedule, the clock and sleep drive become highly synchronized. When in a good routine, the alerting signal increases with every hour you are awake and counteracts the build-up of the sleep drive. The internal clock's alerting signal eventually drops off to coincide with the increasing sleep drive allows for the onset of sleep.
Part of getting into a good sleep routine is prioritising sleep and seeing it as a non-negotiable in your lifestyle. It’s all too easy to agree to a few nights out in a row after work, or stay up late watching a tv series. Deciding on and sticking to a reasonable bedtime will hugely improve your daily alertness and overall health; leaving you less susceptible to illness and giving you a better life quality.
Maximise sleep quality, avoid sleep disruptors
Negative impacts on sleep are normally associated with Nicotine, caffeine and alcohol. The stimulating effects of nicotine and caffeine take hours to wear off, depending on how fast you can metabolise them it could be up to 12 hours before the stimulating effects disappear. Based on this research, stick to coffee consumption solely in the morning. Alcohol might make you feel sleepy, and it has been shown to induce sleep earlier, but it actually completely disrupts sleep later in the night by reducing the rapid eye movement (REM) phase. REM sleep is vital to help us store new memories and retain information. Research has demonstrated significant links between REM sleep and cognitive performance the following day. So make sure you are doing enough to maximise your sleep quality
The evening environment
Bedrooms are supposed to be a place of rest but increasingly they are becoming filled with technology. Many people routinely have a TV, laptop or phone in their room which could be affecting our ability to get off to sleep. These types of entertainment not only tempt us to stay up later but could also be disrupting our sleep quality. The blue light emitted by these screens makes us feel more alert and less sleepy- not ideal for pre-bedtime. Watching TV shows, messaging friends or browsing social media gives the brain too much stimulation at a time it is meant to be winding down. Research shows as much as 50% of us check our phones AFTER we have gone to bed and the lights are out. This demonstrates that our brains are far from switched off, relaxed and ready for sleep, and demonstrates the importance of a good bedtime routine for relaxing our minds. Experts are now recommending reducing screen time in the evening and cutting out phone use at least one hour prior to bed. Many devices now have a mode which cuts out the blue light emitted by the device, which at least cuts down on one of the problems. However, phone use, whether it be checking emails, social media or messaging is still a highly stimulating activity and best avoided in that hour before bedtime. Reduce the temptation by setting your phone hours and putting your phone into sleep mode the hour before you go to bed, or even leave it in another room to charge overnight. Try replacing your evening screen time with reading or yoga. These are ideal evening activities to help your brain relax ready for sleep. You’ll be surprised how quickly you adjust to your new routine and enjoy your evening wind down.
How training affects sleep
Getting regular physical activity has been shown to improve the quality of sleep. Our body needs movement and training in order to fully switch off and relax. The timing and type of activity are important, exercising too close to bedtime can have the opposite effect- known as exercise-induced insomnia. Exercise-induced insomnia is predominantly linked to high-intensity bouts of exercise, which stimulate high levels of cortisol, subsequently affecting our ability to relax and fall asleep. Aim to keep your high-intensity training to the morning only. Low to moderate activity, however, can be beneficial on sleep duration and quality. Activities such as yoga or pilates are ideal evening training modalities.
"If you sleep better, you can certainly live better. It’s pretty clear." Raymonde Jean, MD, director of sleep medicine and associate director of critical care at St. Luke’s-Roosevelt Hospital Center in New York City.
Aim to start your new sleep routine as soon as possible and see how different you feel. You may notice effects on work performance, how frequently you are getting sick or improvements in your mood. Figure out a regular routine that works for you and be vigilant with sticking to it.
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