Sleep plays an essential role in both health and wellbeing throughout our life. But, according to the NHS one in three of us suffers from poor sleep, with stress, computers and taking work home often blamed. Regular poor sleep affects our concentration, memory and mood but it can also have far greater consequences in regard to serious medical conditions including obesity, heart disease and diabetes, those missed hours of sleep are known to shorten life expectancy!
What happens when we sleep?
When we sleep, important physical and mental processes are carried out. Our bodies go into a resting phase, conserving energy, decreasing blood pressure, heart rate, breathing and body temperature. But our brains remain active, laying down memories, restoring mental functioning and carrying out processes that to lead to physical and mental growth.
Sleep is vitally important for the following:
- Controlling body temperature and energy use (metabolism)
- Ensuring our immune systems are working at an optimum level.
- Controlling brain function and restoring memory.
- Keeping our heart and blood vessels healthy.
- Repairing tissues and stimulating growth in children (growth hormone released during sleep is responsible for both).
- Regulating our appetites and weight and controlling blood glucose levels.
The 5 stages of Sleep
Did you know that there are five stages of sleep? Review the following table to see how our sleep progresses from Stage 1 through to Stage 5.
- Stage 1 (Light Sleep): Our eyes are closed during Stage 1 sleep, but we can be awakened without difficulty. If aroused from this stage of sleep, we may feel as if we haven’t slept. Stage 1 may last for five to 10 minutes.
- Stage 2 (Light Sleep): During this light period of sleep the heart rate slows and our body temperature decreases. At this point, our body prepares to enter deep sleep
- Stage 3 & 4 (Deep Sleep): These are deep sleep stages, with Stage 4 being more intense than Stage 3. These stages are known as slow-wave, or delta, sleep. If we are aroused from sleep during these stages, we may feel disoriented for a few minutes.
- Stage 5 (REM): Most dreaming occurs during Stage 5, known as REM. REM sleep is characterized by eye movement, increased respiration rate and increased brain activity. Our brains and other body systems become more active while our muscles become more relaxed. REM sleep is when you typically dream because of increased brain activity. Voluntary muscles become paralyzed, and this period of paralysis is a built-in protective measure to keep you from harming yourself.
How much sleep is enough?
A variety of factors can cause poor sleep, including Insomnia and Obstructive Sleep Apnoea. However, more often than not, it is merely due to bad sleeping habits. If you find that your quality of sleep is being compromised, then you need to thoroughly exam why this may be? If you feel that the reason may be medically associated then schedule an appointment with your doctor, there are treatments that can help.
How to improve the quality of your sleep?
There are many ways in which you can improve the quality of your sleep, some are as simple as the following tips:
- Set your body clock - Try to go bed and get up at the same time each day, including weekends, even if you have had a disturbed night's sleep. Your internal body clock and hormones that control sleepiness and wakefulness work best when you have a regular sleep routine.
- Wind down at Bedtime - Include an hour of quiet time before bed such as reading, having a bath or listening to music. Surround yourself with calming scents and a comfortable environment, then at bedtime, make your bedroom dark, cool and quiet and ensure that your pillows, sleep surface and coverings are comfortable
- Keep your evenings stimulant-free - Don't smoke and avoid alcohol or caffeine. Try not to use electronic devices (Laptop, Tablet or Mobile Phone) for at least 30 minutes before going to bed.
- Go to bed when you’re tired - If you go to bed at the same time each night, you should start to feel sleepy at bedtime. Try not to ignore this sleepy feeling by staying up, as this is your window of opportunity for sleep.
- Get Active - Regular day-time exercise improves sleep. Something as gentle as a walk each day can improve both your physical and mental health.
The benefits of a good night's sleep.
There are a vast number of benefits that come with a good night’s sleep, which include:
Boost your immunity - Prolonged lack of sleep can disrupt your immune system, so you're less able to fend off bugs. Good quality sleep with give your body a welcome boost and ensure you’re better positioned to fight colds & flus.
Maintain a healthy weight - Studies have shown that people who sleep less than 7 hours a day tend to gain more weight and have a higher risk of becoming obese than those who get more than 7 hours. Studies have suggested that people who usually sleep less than 5 hours a night have an increased risk of developing diabetes.
Help your mental wellbeing - Given that a single sleepless night can make you irritable and moody the following day, it's not surprising that chronic sleep debt may lead to long-term mood disorders like depression and anxiety.
Ward off heart disease – Long-standing sleep deprivation can result in increased heart rate, an increase in blood pressure and higher levels of certain chemicals linked with inflammation, which may put extra strain on your heart.
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