Our physio James talks about the value of a good nights sleep and shares his five recommendations on how to get it.
Sleep has a very important role to play when it comes to our mental and physical health. It provides our body with the chance to repair and rejuvenate, undergoing tissue repair, memory processing, hormonal release and detoxing. Therefore, a lack of sleep has been linked to several health issues including heart disease, cancer, prolonged injury, immune deficiency, depression and obesity.
In order to perform at our best, we are recommended between 7 to 9 hours of sleep per night. Studies into sleep duration show that those who obtain less than 7 hours suffer with up to 60% more injuries, as well as reduced performance in memory, cognitive function and driving reaction tests.
Often, a busy work and family lifestyle does not permit a great deal of sleep. In addition, the number of people experiencing sleep disorders is on the rise. This means many of us are not getting the quantity or quality we need to function effectively.
Introduce good habits.
If we begin eating at the same times every day, we begin to become hungry at the same times every day. This is because we are unknowingly training our hormonal and chemical reactions to predict food intake, directly affecting our circadian rhythm or body clock. In the same way, we can influence and manipulate reactions with our other lifestyle choices including sleep and exercise.
In addition to adopting good habits, dropping bad habits such as caffeine or alcohol in the evening will avoid sleep disruption.
Don’t let in the light.
One of the first hormonal changes implicating sleep is the release of melatonin, which lowers heart rate, alertness and makes us feel sleepy. During the day, when our eyes are exposed to light, this stimulates other areas of the brain that suppress the release of melatonin. By reducing the light entering your eyes, you will feel sleepier faster. Blackout blinds, dimming using lamps early evening, changing to a night mode (red light) setting on devices for up to 2 hours before bed and having no contact with your technology up to one hour before bed are all effective.
Get the temperature right.
Although most of us prefer to be warm when nodding off to sleep, our brains begin the process most efficiently at approximately 0.5 degrees cooler than average body temperature. If you often use big blankets or thick pyjamas it is likely contributing to your restlessness. Taking a hot bath before bed or wearing gloves and thick socks to bed can help by creating vasodilation (widening of blood cells) to your extremities, diverting some blood flow and therefore heat away from your core.
Exercise can help reduce stress, increasing blood flow and improving mood, among other benefits. Forms of exercise which have been found to have the strongest link to sleep quality are cardio (such as walking, running and swimming), strength training and yoga. Exercising too close to bedtime is not recommended for those suffering with insomnia, however, if you’re managing to sleep every night and are looking to lengthen or improve, exercise can be very effective.
Try to relax.
One of the trickiest causes of sleep deprivation to manage is stress, often induced by the struggle to fall asleep. Therapies such as massage and acupuncture can be effective in providing natural relaxation by increasing the release of sleep-aiding hormones. Forms of meditation, such as mindfulness training and progressive muscle relaxation can also be very helpful in creating a sleep ready mindset.
The above techniques will not necessarily bring immediate relief as the causes have often built up over time. However, if practiced regularly, over time you should begin to see an improvement.