In today’s fast-paced world, the idea of a good night’s sleep seems to have fallen down our list of priorities. But adequate rest plays an absolutely essential role in our physical and mental wellbeing. Health experts warn us that we can’t function to the best of our abilities without sleep – and we should be doing everything we can to make sure we ‘get a good night,’ every night!
Why do we need sleep? Scientists have many theories on why humans need to sleep. (In fact, many health resources explain that reasons for sleep are only partially clear and the subject of ongoing research). What we do know, however, is that humans must sleep and many essential things happen to us while we’re doing it:
- The brain has a chance to exercise important neuronal connections that might otherwise deteriorate due to lack of activity.
- Sleep gives the brain an opportunity to re-organize information to help find solutions to problems; process newly learned information; and ‘organize’ memories.
- Sleeping is a time for genuine rest. While we’re asleep, our metabolic rate and energy consumption is lowered.
- The cardiovascular system also gets a break during sleep. Researchers have found that people with normal or high blood pressure experience a 20% to 30% reduction in blood pressure and 10% to 20% reduction in heart rate.
- During sleep, the body has a chance to replace chemicals, and repair muscles and other body tissues and aging cells.
- Growth hormones are also released during deep sleep. But the most obvious reason why we need sleep is to consider what happens when we don’t get it. We’ve all experienced the moodiness, reduced alertness and concentration, reduced work efficiency, lack of motivation, poor memory etc, associated with a bad night’s sleep. The more serious consequences are accidents as a result of fatigue (falling asleep while driving, for example); depression; an inability to learn and process information at an effective level; health consequences as a result of weight gain; reduced skin health; and forgetfulness. Some studies also show that patients who suffer from a lack of sleep appear to have a significantly higher risk of developing cardiovascular disease.
- Stick to the same bedtime and waking times, even on the weekends. This habit regulates your body’s biological clock and helps you fall asleep and stay asleep, every night.
- Practice a relaxing ‘bedtime ritual’ before sleep time. A relaxing, routine activity right before bedtime conducted away from bright lights helps separate your sleep time from activities that cause excitement, stress or anxiety which make it difficult to fall asleep.
- Exercise daily. Even light exercise is better than no activity. But avoid exercising at the expense of your sleep, of course!
- Re-evaluate where you sleep. Experts recommend that the room where you sleep should be coolish (around 20 degrees Celsius); free from any disturbing noises; and free from any light.
- Sleep on a comfortable, good quality mattress, and use a pillow that is comfortable and supportive.
- Avoid alcohol, cigarettes, and caffeine and heavy meals in the evening. Some wellness experts even say we should avoid eating for up to 2 to 3 hours before sleeping.
- Your body needs time to shift into sleeping mode. Before going to bed, spend some time doing a calming activity like reading, drawing, or some light breathing exercises or meditation.
- Using an electronic device such as a laptop or Smartphone can make it hard to fall asleep because the particular type of light emanating from the screens of these devices is activating to the brain. If you have trouble sleeping, avoid electronics before bed or in the middle of the night.