Are you a light sleeper? Do you only get five to six hours of sleep on average? Do you toss and turn at night? If you’re worried that you’re not getting enough, you have good reason to be concerned about the importance of sleep.
While sleep requirements may vary from person to person, a good night’s sleep for a healthy adult last anywhere between seven and nine hours per night. Babies, children, and teenagers need more than this as they are still developing.
Of course, there are instances when we can’t help but miss sleep, such as when we’re travelling, caring for a sick family member, or having to meet urgent work deadlines. As long as these late nights aren’t prolonged, it’s usually easy to revert to a healthy sleep schedule. However, chronic sleep deprivation or lack of sleep has adverse long-term effects on health.
Steps to Getting a Good Night’s Sleep
If you want to enjoy the benefits of quality sleep and avoid the health consequences of sleep deprivation, consider the following tips:
• Maintain a regular sleep and wake schedule. If your sleep has been irregular of late, use an alarm clock (not the alarm clock in your phone) until sleep becomes routine.
• Check the quality of your mattress and pillows. Invest in an organic latex mattress, which is both supportive and super comfy. But if your current bed is still relatively new, you can get a latex mattress topper instead. This allows you to choose the level of firmness and softness you want to support your sleep needs. You also need to have pillows that give adequate neck and head support and help keep the spine in its proper position.
• Set yourself up for sleep by adhering to a relaxing bedtime ritual, such as winding down for the day by going to bed without your gadgets and turning off all the lights 15 to 30 minutes before your target sleep time.
• Avoid napping in the afternoon, including taking short catnaps as doing so can interfere with regular nighttime sleep.
• Engage in regular physical activity or exercise, even for just half an hour every day. But avoid exercising too close to bedtime.
• Make your room conducive to sleep. If you are sensitive to light, install blackout curtains to keep out early morning sunlight. Keep your bedroom cool at a comfortable 15°C to 19°C range. Keep white noise in the background or play relaxing music at a low volume for 45 minutes — anything that will help you fall asleep.
• Get some sunlight exposure in the morning and avoid using overly bright lights in the evening to help regulate your natural circadian rhythm.
• Reduce or eliminate cigarettes and alcohol, and avoid heavy meals and spicy food in the evening. Try eating dinner two to three hours before bedtime.
• Indulge in a relaxing activity before going to bed, such as taking a warm, relaxing bath or reading a favourite book. Avoid using your bed for working on your laptop, checking your phone, or watching television. Dedicate your bedroom solely for sleep-related activities.
So, if you’re trying to get back on the right sleep track, knowing about the following five health benefits of sleep might inspire you to exert more effort.
Reasons for Getting a Good Sleep
1. It helps reduce stress.
When you are sleep-deprived, your body goes into a state of stress, which causes blood pressure to spike. Depending on your health status, high blood pressure can increase your risk of suffering from a heart attack and stroke. Stress also leads to a surge in the production of adrenaline and cortisol, making it even more difficult to relax and go to sleep — turning this into a vicious cycle.
But with adequate sleep as part of a healthy lifestyle, you’ll experience less stress since you’re giving your body enough time to heal and rejuvenate itself. You’ll also feel rested and energized — always ready to face the day.
2. It strengthens immunity.
One study showed that good quality sleep fortifies the body’s T cells, which play a critical role in immune response to infection, as well as in the formation of long-lasting immunological memories. Quality sleep achieves this as T cell production peaks at night. Good sleep also enhances the ability of T cells to adhere to and destroy infected cells.
3. It helps reduce inflammation.
Proper sleep works directly to control inflammation in the body by preventing pro-inflammatory activity caused by poor, unregulated sleep. Sleep offers the body critical protection against stress — which is a major contributor to chronic inflammation — an already established pathway to serious health conditions, such as heart disease, stroke, diabetes, and cancer.
With chronic inflammation, the body’s immune system is always activated, even when disease-fighting cells have no bacteria, viruses, or any other pathogens to fend off. When the body is continually in this state, healthy cells can end up being attacked and damaged by the body’s own fighter cells, leading to autoimmune disease and other chronic illnesses.
4. It improves brain functioning.
Adequate sleep is critical to cognitive function, especially in relation to short-term brain performance. Lack of sleep impairs judgment, hinders learning and memory, and slows reaction time. This is why sleep-deprived driving is prohibited.
When you have sufficient sleep, you’re alert, make fewer mistakes, and retain information easily. That’s because sleep gives neurons or nerve cells critical to the processing and transmission of information time to repair and rest.
5. It boosts athletic performance.
For sports enthusiasts and athletes, research has shown that sleep quality influences accuracy, reaction time, and endurance. Thus, sleep deprivation can easily impact athletic performance in sports like biking, running, and swimming. Poor sleep, on the other hand, can increase the risk of illness and injury. Lack of sleep robs the body of energy and reduces time for muscle repair and recovery. It can also affect your motivation as inadequate sleep stresses the whole body, physically and mentally.
Of course, if none of these tips work or you are not getting the benefits listed above but are still getting a lengthy sleep, you should go ahead and consult with your doctor or a sleep specialist. If you can maintain a sleep log or diary, do so as this can assist them in evaluating your sleep habits.