Why Is Sleep So Important?
On average you spend a third of your life unconscious, and a proportion of that time is rife with wild hallucinations. Why do you sacrifice so much time doing “nothing”, when you could be awake: eating, learning, and creating? And for many people sleep is not the restorative session their body and brains need leaving them feeling tired, sluggish and unable to function properly.
At Finchley Osteopaths, our colleague, Ruby Saddington, explains why sleep is so important and how you can train yourselves to get better at it.
Talking to Ruby Saddington about potential changes to your sleep routine can help ensure you make the right changes for you. Osteopathy can also effectively relieve muscle and joint injuries, improving the quality and duration of sleep.
Stages Of Sleep
Sleep consists of two stages: Non rapid eye movement (“deep sleep”), and rapid eye movement (“dream sleep”). Both stages provide different benefits.
Improves our memory. Short term memories are stored in an area of our brain called the hippocampus. The slow synchronised brain waves of deep sleep systematically move our memories from short term to long term.
Enhances creativity and problem solving. The brain waves of dream sleep are erratic and resemble that of the waking brain. An entanglement of emotions, senses, actions, and characters are played out in a theatrical performance every night. Subconscious processing of our reactions better equips us to deal with the unpredictable nature of the future.
How do you know if you are getting enough sleep?
Feeling tired, having poor concentration and memory recall can be a sign that you are not getting enough sleep. Ask yourself, can you function in the morning without a cup of coffee? And if you didn’t set an alarm, would you sleep past that point?
If these questions resonate with you it is likely that you are not getting enough sleep.
What stops you from getting enough sleep?
- Blue light – leading up to bed time exposure to light from screens will inhibit the release of melatonin (a hormone that is released as darkness falls and acts as a signal for the onset of sleep).
- High temperatures – to fall asleep your body temperature needs to drop 2-3°C. It is always easier to sleep in a room that is too cold than too warm.
- Caffeine prevents our brain from feeling the natural build up of fatigue that builds throughout your waking day. Once your brain has sufficiently cleared the caffeine you experience a rush of fatigue which we call a “caffeine crash”.
- Alcohol – although individuals often report falling asleep easier after a nightcap, alcohol is a sedative and sedation is not the same as sleep. This deprives your body of the health benefits natural sleep provides.
- High intensity exercise close to bed time. Exercise raises your core body temperature for 1-2 hours which prevents the natural drop in temperature necessary for sleep. Additionally, exercise elevates cortisol and adrenaline levels which make it harder to fall asleep.
- High levels of anxiety.
Sleeping pills do not make you sleep
Sleeping pills are a class of drugs known as sedative hypnotics, they depress the central nervous system inducing unconsciousness. As sedation is not the same as sleep, we lose those critical health benefits that sleep provides. For this reason GPs may prescribe sleeping pills to break a vicious cycle of insomnia but will recommend cognitive behavioural therapy to better address the root cause of your sleep loss.
Pain management and sleep
Pain and discomfort at night can impact your ability to sleep. And conversely, poor sleep is one of the biggest causes of chronic pain (as well as many mental health conditions). A good night’s sleep enhances the release of growth hormone, a hormone critical for tissue repair, further enhancing our ability to recover from an injury. It also increases morning cortisol levels (our natural stress hormone) bringing us out of sleep and allowing us to better react to everyday stresses.
The benefits of consistently getting 7-8 hours of sleep a night include
- Improved immunity. After just one night of good sleep you are less likely to catch a cold the following day.
- Improved pain tolerance.
- Improved heart health. Sleep lowers your blood pressure, reducing your risk of a stroke or heart attack.
- Weight loss. Sleep improves levels of ghrelin (a hormone that signals fullness) so you are less likely to overeat. Additionally, after a good night’s sleep you are more likely to burn calories from fat than from lean muscle mass.
- Improved memory. Sleep moves short term memories to long term storage, enhancing your ability to recall information.
- Improved physical memory. Sleep enhances your ability to perfect a move while dancing, playing an instrument or competing in sports, helping to put all you have learned during the day into usable muscle memory.
8 things you can do to improve your sleep
- Stick to a sleep schedule. Going to bed and waking at the same time each day. Sleeping later on weekends will not make up for a lack of sleep during the week and will often make it harder to wake up early on Monday morning.
- Not lying in bed awake. If you find yourself still awake after 30 minutes, get up and do something relaxing and return to bed once you are feeling sleepy. This trains the brain to associate the bed with sleep and not with wakefulness.
- Avoid day time napping, exceeding 60 minutes, after 3 p.m.
- Relax before bed. A relaxing activity such as reading or listening to music should help you wind down.
- Having a good sleeping environment. Remove anything that might distract you from sleep such as bright lights, loud noises, warm temperatures, phones, televisions and computers.
- Try and get at least 30 minutes of exposure to sunlight throughout the day.
- Avoid caffeine, nicotine and alcohol, especially 2 hours before bedtime.
- Finding the right mattress and pillow to support your spine and the rest of your body.
If you are looking to make changes to your sleep routine, talk to Ruby Saddington to make sure you are making the right changes for you.