Sleep For Optimal Health
Sleep plays such an important role in our optimal health and its estimated that only one fifth of the world’s population enjoys perfectly healthy, restorative sleep. Considering we spend roughly one third of our lives sleeping, it’s important to get this under control.
By understanding more about sleeping and waking and following a few simple steps, you can greatly improve the quality of your sleep and health.
The Circadian Rhythm
The human body runs on a 24 hour cycle. The circadian rhythm is the name of the cycle for waking and sleeping. Our body uses the cycle of the sun each day to control an internal timekeeper which is called our biological clock. This controls us waking up in the morning and going to sleep at night. The hormone “melatonin” is what controls our waking and sleeping cycle; this hormone is secreted in our pineal gland which is in the centre of the brain. There have been studies shown that our biological clocks are set every morning when we see the light. Bright lights shone on our eyes and skin causes the pineal gland to secrete melatonin which releases the “waking” hormones into our system.
Stages of Sleep
A typical adult sleep ranges between 6 and 9 hours a night. During which we have 4-5 separate cycles of sleep, each lasting roughly 90 minutes each. These cycles come and go with brief periods of wakefulness, although we don’t usually remember.
Each of the 4-5 cycles has another 5 separate stages within themselves.
- 2 stages of Light sleep
(Drowsiness and light sleep)
- 2 stages of Deep Sleep
- Rapid Eye movement (REM) This is where we dream.
When we sleep we make journeys back and forth through stages 1 – 4 before returning to stage 2 before we enter our first period of REM sleep.
A healthy adults sleep in roughly divided into 50% light sleep, 25% deep sleep and 25% REM sleep.
The Role of Sleep
During the 2 stages of sleep our body produces growth hormone, also known as somatotropin or GH. GH helps to assist in cellular repair, regeneration of our immune system, bone density, connective tissues and muscle mass. It is also believed that during our REM phase of sleeping is where our consolidation of memory takes place, which basically means the process that stabilizes our memories’.
Sleep is extremely important to our daily function of our body. It is fundamental for repairing damaged blood cells, daily wear and tear on our body’s, restoring efficiency of the brain and essential for our emotional and mental wellbeing.
In the early hours of the morning our immune system creates the antibodies to fight the antigens (viruses, bacteria, toxins etc) that we were exposed to the previous day. Therefore if our sleep is compromised it reduces the antibody development causing the immune system to be suppressed.
Now that you know a little bit more about how our body likes to sleep and how its effected if we don’t get enough, here are a few ways you can improve your sleeping patterns.
Five steps to a better night sleep
- Go to bed and wake up at the same time daily, even on the weekends.
- Don't go to bed either hungry or with a food baby. The discomfort might keep you up. Also limit how much you drink before bed, to prevent disruptive toilet trips in the night. Avoid all the sleep destroyers like alcohol, caffeine or nicotine up to 10 hours before bed.
- Bed time routine - Do the same things each night to let your body know it's time to wind down. Anything from a warm bath or shower, light reading, brushing your teeth or listening to soothing music. Relaxing activities can promote a better sleep by easing the transition between wakefulness and drowsiness.
Expose yourself to bright lights as soon as you wake.
- Limit naps to no longer than 20mins during the day.
Having problems falling asleep?
- Go to bed when you feel sleepy
- Keep your bed as a place for sleeping only
- Avoid napping during the day if possible
- Try and wake up the same time during the week as you do in the weekends.
- If you don’t fall asleep within 20mins of going to bed, get up and do something else.
- Go back to bed when you feel sleepy (and again if necessary)