Updated: May 4
Considering the average individual will spend around a third of their lives asleep, many of us underestimate the vital role it plays in both our physical and mental wellbeing. In fact, it is considered equally as important as eating well and exercising.
While we commonly view sleep as a period of rest, sleep is actually an active period when a lot of important processing, strengthening and restoration occurs. It allows our brains and our bodies to recover from the previous day, helping memory formation, regulating our hormone levels and repairing any muscle or tissue damage.
Unfortunately, with an increased significance being placed upon work and productivity, people are sleeping less, and with decreasing quality, than they did in the past. The exponentially increasing fast-paced modern world is interfering with natural sleep patterns. Stimulants such as coffee and alcohol, alarm clocks, and artificial lights—especially those from electronic devices—interfere with our ‘circadian rhythm’ or natural sleep/wake cycle.
As a nutritionist, I am a strong advocate for having balance in your life, and I wholly believe a healthy sleeping pattern is a major player when it comes to achieving a balanced lifestyle.
How Much Sleep Do We Really Need?
The recommended average sleep time changes depending on your age.
According to a 2018 study conducted by the National Sleep Foundation, for infants, the sleeping range is between 12-17 hours each day, for school age children it is 9-11 hours, teenagers 8-10 hours and adults between 7-9 hours. Outside of this window, we are more susceptible to a lack of focus and motivation, forgetfulness, low mood, tiredness and stress.
With that in mind, a recent survey has revealed that only 6% of UK adults are getting their recommended amount of sleep. For the 94% of us with sleep debt, we have forgotten what being truly rested really feels like.
How Is Sleep Connected To Our Health?
· Poor Sleep is Linked to Weight Gain
Sleep deprivation will disrupt the natural fluctuations in appetite hormones, leptin and ghrelin. Appetite regulation is reduced and you will become more likely to snack and consume more. It is common for people who lack sleep to have higher appetites to compensate for the lack of energy. In an extensive review study, children and adults with a shorter sleep duration were 89% and 55% more likely to become obese, respectively
· Poor Sleepers Have a Greater risk of Heart Disease and Stroke
While more research needs to be done on the direct cause and effect of poor sleep and heart health, there is an abundance of evidence that points towards those who don’t sleep enough are at higher risk of cardiovascular disease and coronary heart disease—regardless of age, weight, smoking and exercise habits.
· Link to Depression
Altered and disrupted sleeping patterns can be both a cause and an effect of mental health issues.
When you don’t get the recommended 7-9 hours of sleep, it can, and will heavily influence your energy levels, your motivation and your overall outlook on life. Constant disruption of circadian rhythms will alter brain activity and the neurochemicals that control a person’s mood and thought processes, seriously influencing their social and emotional interactions.
Researchers have found that people with sleeping disorders such as insomnia or destructive sleep apnoea are 10 times more likely to have clinical depression and 17 times as likely to have clinical anxiety.
Tips For a Healthy Sleeping Schedule
If you believe there is room for improvement in your sleeping pattern, below are a couple of things you can do to make sure you are practicing healthy sleeping behaviours:
· Stick to a sleep schedule
Getting into a routine with your sleeping schedule - even on weekends - will regulate your body’s circadian rhythms and help you to fall asleep and wake up at consistent times. Set a target time to go to bed and stick to it at least 3-4 times in the week.
· Exercise daily
Regular exercise will improve your sleep quality and increases sleep duration. Not only does it act as a healthy release for stress, it will tire you out and increase the likelihood of uninterrupted sleep.
· Be wary of stimulants
Avoid stimulants, like alcohol, nicotine and caffeine at least 2 hours before you go to sleep. They will have a negative impact on the quantity and quality of your sleep.
· Turn off electronics before bed
The more accustomed and dependent we become upon our electronic devices, the more they become part of our ‘down time’. There is an abundance of scientific research, which documents the role of light and wakefulness; our small devices can emit enough light to confuse the brain and promote wakefulness.
The Bottom Line
Alongside nutrition and exercise, good sleep is one of the integral pillars of good health. It is all about finding a healthy balance between these three pillars, and ensuring you don’t neglect any one of them, as it will be detrimental to the others. Making sure you are well rested and practicing healthy sleeping behaviours will only serve to provide you with the motivation and energy to exercise and eat well. Sleep is the lifeblood of a healthy lifestyle, and should be treated as such. If you are looking for assistance in finding your healthy balance, then please don’t hesitate to get in touch. Book in for a free discovery call today!