“Sleep is our secret weapon against poor health. When we get enough, there is vitality and well being. When we are deprived, there is sickness and disease. It improves your memory and enhances creativity. It can make you appear more attractive. It helps keep you slim and reduces desire for high calorie foods. It could protect you from cancer and dementia. It keeps colds and the flu at bay. It lowers your risk of heart attacks, stroke, and diabetes. You’ll feel happier, have better relationships, and a reduction in depression and anxiety”
As a baby I would keep my parents awake night after night until I was nearly 3. My urge for milk at regular intervals simply couldn’t go unfulfilled, and I would wail like a banshee until I’d been fed. This is a common nightly routine for new parents all over the world, and many, myself included, will shudder at the thought of those sleep deprived weeks and months in those early days of parenthood.
It wasn’t until I became a Father myself that I realised how difficult everything is when you’re deprived of quality sleep.
- I gained Weight.
- My energy levels & Performance in training were poor.
- I was more injury prone.
- It felt like I had a cold every other week.
- I would be moody and have very little patience.
- I couldn’t concentrate on anything.
- I felt like I was depressed.
- And I looked like a Zombie.
In a study conducted by respected psychotherapist and marriage researcher John Gottman, PhD, and published in The Journal of Family Psychology (Vol.14, No.1), it was discovered that most couples who separate within the first 7 years, do so because they became parents. A staggering 67% of couples reported a decline in their relationship in the first 6 – 9 months after the arrival of a baby.
I wonder if this would be the case if both parents were getting the recommended 7-9 hours a quality sleep a night? I would beg to differ.
Having never been deprived of sleep longer than the odd night here and there, this was an eye-opening period of my life. As I sit here 2 years on from those sleepless nights, I now look upon sleep as the most important aspect of my physical & mental health, and so should you.
The first things we tend to think about when deciding to start a new health & fitness regime is Exercise and Diet. But how many times have you held Sleep in similar regard? How many times have you created a “Sleep Program” to go alone side your new training schedule or healthy eating plan? Probably never.
If we consider that sleep has a direct effect on both, as well as your productivity, emotional balance, brain and heart health, immune function, creativity and vitality, it’s amazing to think many of us are still neglecting this basic aspect of our health.
How Much Sleep Should We Be Getting?
- Newborns 16-18hrs a day.
- Pre-School 11-12hrs a day.
- School Children 10hrs a day.
- Teenagers 9-10hrs a day.
- Adults 7-9hrs a day.
The Benefits of Getting Enough Sleep
When you improve your sleep, you’ll likely experience the following benefits. It also goes without saying that when you’re not getting enough sleep your chance of experiencing the opposite negative effect will increase.
- Faster Rates of Weight Loss
- Hormonal Balance
- A reduced chance of stroke and cardiovascular disease
- Lower risk of Alzheimer’s disease and Dementia; better memory
- Stronger bones and lower levels of inflammation
- Reduced levels of stress and better relationships
- Improved performance and recovery from exercise
- Better Skin (Less chance of looking like a zombie)
- Stronger Immune Function
- Longer Life
How to turn Sleep into your Superpower
Good quality sleep isn’t something that happens on its own, it takes work. There are plenty of things you can do that can help prevent the negative side effects of not getting enough sleep.
Here’s my Top 10 Tips for improving your sleep and optimising your health.
Go Easy on the Caffeine
According to The International Coffee Organisation the Nordic nations are the biggest consumers of Coffee in the world. It’s difficult to put into words how important Coffee is here in Scandinavia, so this is unlikely to be a popular option here.
However, caffeine can stay in the body for up to 6-8 hours after consumption which is terrible if you’re trying to improve your sleep quality. Caffeine blocks receptors in your brain that are responsible for making you tired, so going easy on caffeine after lunchtime, or 6-8 hours before going to bed might be your best option.
Get into a Routine
Our circadian rhythm governs many of the processes involved with sleep, so having irregular sleeping patterns can cause a fair bit of disruption. If you keep the same sleeping hours during the week and then stay up all night at the weekend, it’s no surprise if you feel fatigued on Monday morning. So where possible try and go to sleep and wake up at the same time regardless of what day it is.
It’s also important to consider what we are doing in the lead up to sleep. Thinking about and building a bedtime routine that sets you up for a great night of sleep is a great idea. So, by creating a habitual routine you will be priming yourself for the best possible night’s sleep.
Give Your Eyes a Rest – Switch Off
It’s almost impossible to be far from a tv, phone or tablet in the modern world. We spend more time with our eyes fixed to screens than ever before. This is not necessarily a good thing, especially when getting quality sleep is the goal. The blue light emitted from our screens operate on the same light spectrum wavelength as the sun. This blue light will effectively trick your body into thinking it’s still daytime and impair your sleep process.
So, switching off all electronic devices and hour before bed, wearing blue light blocking glasses or using blue light filters on all electronics can be a powerful addition to your bedtime routine.
Embrace the Darkness
The night is dark, but is it dark enough? The darker you can keep your sleeping environment the better. The slightest light be it from a glowing full moon, streetlights or a charging phone will signal photoreceptors in your eyes (even through your eyelids) which will disturb your sleep process. Block out all light.
Be Cool – Open a Window
Comfort is vital, so make sure the temperature in your room is not too warm. As we move closer to bedtime, there is an automatic drop in core body temperature to help initiate sleep. So, if your room is too warm or uncomfortable, it will be harder for your body to get into the ideal state for a great night of sleep.
Being warmer during the night leads to a heightened state of arousal and makes it harder for you to fall and remain asleep. Having a window open allows for cool fresh air to circulate in and out, which will help improve the quality of your sleep.
Have a soak in the Tub
Parents have been using the hot bath hack to help their children fall asleep for years. When you have a hot bath, it causes blood to rush to the surface of your skin, which releases core body heat and cools you down. That cooling will assist the automatic drop in core body temperature allowing for a smooth transition into sleep. A hot bath can also leave you feeling very relaxed, calm and there is nothing better than getting into bed all fresh and clean, ready for a long deep sleep.
Keep a Journal
Racing minds are one of the key causes of poor sleep. By keeping a short daily journal, it allows you to process the thoughts in your head prior to bed. It provides the opportunity to think about your day, how it went, what you could have done better and gives you that time to make a plan or a “To Do List” for the following day.
Get Your Leg Over
Like we need an excuse! Without going into too much detail, having an orgasm is one of the best things you can do to help ensure a restful night’s sleep.
Both men and women release a cocktail of chemicals within the body that have a calming effect and will send you off to sleep with a big smile on your face. (Hopefully)
Let There Be Light
As already mentioned light wakes you up. So, by exposing yourself to natural light as soon as you wake up, it helps align your circadian rhythm, and in turn makes you feel more tired in the evening. So, open the curtains, step outside, breath that fresh morning air and let the light work its magic.
Move Your Arse
There are very few negative aspects to regular exercise, so it will be no surprise to learn that exercising will help to improve your sleep. Although exercising close to bedtime can create a state of alertness for some, just 30 minutes of moderate aerobic movement a day could be all you need for improved sleep.
So, get outside for a walk, hit the gym, go for a run, jump in the pool. Whatever you do, just move that arse!
We still can’t pinpoint the definitive reason behind why we sleep, but what is clear is the huge importance it holds for our health. Its World Sleep Day today so if you’re looking at ways to improve your health and wellbeing, then I implore you to think about your own sleep habits to see if there is any room for improvement. It could make all the difference.
Journal of Family Psychology John Gottman PhD (Vol.14, No.1).
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