When you consider that sleep is something we spend nearly a third of our lives doing, we really should be very good at it. Most of us however do not get enough sleep, and when we do sleep this sleep can be of poor quality. Sleep plays an important role in your physical health and is more than just a way to rest your mind and weary muscles.
Getting enough quality sleep is an integral part of good health. It affects your metabolism, bloody pressure, energy, ability to concentrate, immune system, mood and almost every other aspect of your health.
People tend to believe that when we sleep the brain rests along with the body. Sleep research has proven that the brain is as active as ever during sleep, where information is processed, memories are created and stored and toxins are cleaned out of brain tissue.
Although your brain never rests during sleep, certain nerves and hormones relax whilst others gear up. Effectively the night shift comes to do its work, however it is not always easy for the day shift to go home if you are not prepared for sleep and have not followed a ‘good sleep’ regime.
The effect of the day and night shift not being able to switch on and off can lead to short or long term insomnia. Which can in turn lead to fatigue, ill health, muscle loss and weight gain.
There are 5 stages of sleep which work towards getting a fully restorative sleep.
- Stage 1: The stage between being awake and asleep, also referred to as a very light sleep.
- Stage 2: Fully asleep, breathing and heart rate is steady and your body temperature drops slightly.
- Stage 3 & 4: Deep and restorative sleep, the muscles are relaxed, energy restored and hormones released.
- REM (Rapid Eye Movement): Dream stage, usually occurs about 90 minutes after falling asleep and again for a few more times with each REM stage lasting a little longer than the one before.
Age, gender, health and lifestyle all play a major role in how long we spend in each stage of sleep. Finding ways to increase stages 3 & 4 of sleep will lead to beneficial, quality sleep.
Alcohol & Coffee
Two of the biggest culprits to poor sleep are alcohol and coffee.
Both of these liquids are stimulants, creating unnatural short-term energy lifts. Coffee digested late in the day stays in the body into the night, which can lengthen stage 1 of sleep and prevent quality time in stage 3, 4 & REM.
Creating a ‘good sleep’ regime
Understanding how we sleep and what habits, choices, foods and environments affect this sleep is essential.
Regularly collating a sleep diary can be a useful way to understand how your body responds to this important part in your day.
Waking up every morning and recording the quality of your previous night’s sleep can begin the process to understanding the effectiveness of your sleep.
Once you have begun recording your sleep it is important to look at the factors and influences prior to this sleep that may have made a difference. What did you eat, was a phone or laptop used in bed before sleep, or what was the temperature of your bedroom?
The more information you are able to gather the more patterns and links you will be able to find to lead to a ‘good sleep’.
Some ‘good sleep’ markers you can aim towards before bed for a better chance of a good night’s sleep are:
- Good sleep, food & nutrition
Certain foods can raise relaxation hormones and help prepare your body for sleep. The next article will explain the right food choices you can make.
Nutrients such as GABA and magnesium can also help relax the brain to a state ready for sleep.
Meditation can control your thought processes and help create space in your brain for work, life and relaxation processes to not overlap. Meditation has been shown to lower heart rate and blood pressure which in turn calms the body and mind.
- Room temperature
Finding the right room temperature which is not too hot will allow you to lower your body temperature for a long restful sleep.
- Magnesium salt baths
Relaxing your body in a warm (not hot) bath of magnesium flakes can relax your muscles and in turn relax your whole body. The lack of tension will allow you to fall quickly fall asleep and prevent tension from disturbing your sleep.
- Dark sleep environment
A dark room to sleep in allows your body and mind to switch off, especially important if you live in a city where light pollution can be an issue.
- Electronic device usage
Try to be disciplined with your phone, laptop and TV. These devices stimulate your brain and prevent you from winding down at the end of a day. Giving yourself time before bed to stop looking at these devices can be beneficial to your mental state and sleep.
The more stressed you feel or the harder you are working the less likely you are to achieve a good quality sleep. If your body is unable to turn all the sleep signals on in your body it will not get a good night’s rest.
Taking the quality of your sleep into your own hands and making positive moves towards sleep and recovery will lead to a more energised, stronger and healthier you.