20 April 2024, 09:07
By Marco Magni Nov 20, 2017

Sleep your way to a healthy mind and body

We all recognise the importance of a good night’s sleep, and yet many of us feel we are not getting enough of it, writes Marco Magni, president of mattress manufacturer Magniflex USA …

In a UK survey of over 2,000 adults, most reported getting an average of 6.8 hours sleep each night, despite feeling they needed about 7.7 hours.

At some point in our lives, we are all likely to experience that groggy feeling you get when you need more sleep. While we may all occasionally have to muddle through the day feeling this way, there are times when the risk it can create makes it simply not worth it. Sleep deprivation has been implicated in some of the biggest historical disasters of our time, from Chernobyl to the Space Shuttle Challenger accident in the Eighties. It can make it hard to concentrate, impair your judgement and leave you feeling irritable. It’s no wonder a study recently showed that judges who are sleep deprived gave out harsher sentences.

Over time, sleep deprivation can be detrimental to your health in several ways. Numerous studies in people like shift workers have linked poor sleep to health problems such as heart disease, diabetes, cancer and mental illness. That’s because your body needs sleep to recover from everyday stresses and prepare for the next day. While you sleep, your body carries out activities like regulating your hormones and consolidating your memories. Your immune system’s memory is also consolidated at night, so you are better equipped to fight off illness.

Missing out on even a single night’s sleep can leave you feeling hungry and craving sugary foods the next day because your metabolism gets out of kilter. You’re likely to have more of the hunger-inducing hormone ghrelin and less leptin, which tells your body you’ve had enough to eat. In the long term, sleep deprivation can contribute to weight gain.

Overcoming the adverse effects poor sleep can have on mental health can be particularly hard. Lack of sleep makes mental illness worse and vice versa, which can leave people caught in a vicious cycle.

According to Professor Russell Foster, director of the Sleep and Circadian Neuroscience Institute at Oxford University, sleep disruption is always found in some form with psychiatric illnesses like depression and schizophrenia. Some of the genes involved in sleep are also linked to mental illness, and sleep disruption may even help predict mental illness before it is diagnosed.

To help you get a good night’s sleep, Magniflex’s sleep experts suggest the following:

1. Create a comfy bedroom

Your bedroom should be quiet, comfortable and relaxing. Aim to get the temperature just right (most people sleep best at about 16 degrees Celsius) and wear earplugs if you need to. Make sure your bed is inviting and has a comfy mattress. According to a recent study by Loughborough University’s Clinical Sleep Research Unit, 46% of people are kept awake by an uncomfortable bed.

2. Sleep and wake up at the same time every day

How much sleep we each need varies and may depend on how old or active you are. But one thing that’s clear is that sleeping and waking up at the same time every day helps our internal body clock function properly. This helps your body knows when it is time to prepare for the next day by triggering physiological changes to make you more alert.

3. Control your exposure to light

Your body clock relies on light to work out what time it is, which is why habits like watching television and using electronic devices late at night can keep you awake.

Aim to get enough light in the day, preferably from the sunlight, since indoor light isn’t always bright enough to keep us alert. Before you go to bed, dim the lights as you start to unwind.

4. Eat your last meal two to three hours before bed

Eating just before bedtime is likely to make you uncomfortable and disrupt your sleep. It also sends the wrong signals to your body which uses food to give you energy to be active.

Caffeine, alcohol and big meals are particularly disruptive to sleep, so steer clear of these. If you are hungry, have a light snack instead. Milk and oats are good options.

5. Relax beforehand

Having a routine to help you unwind before bed will make it easier for you to drift off. This may involve meditating, having a hot bath, or listening to some relaxing music - whatever works for you.

Switching off when you’re worried can be particularly difficult. If worrying keeps you awake, try writing down a list of your concerns to deal with the next day. If your worries persist and lack of sleep begins to affect your daily activities, then it’s best to speak to a doctor for help.

6. Be active in the day

Exercise helps tire your body, so you are more likely to sleep well. Try to fit in some kind of physical activity for at least 30 minutes five days a week, just be sure to finish this at least two hours before your bedtime.

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