“A well-spent day brings happy sleep.” – Leonardo da Vinci
We spend about ⅓ of our lives asleep , so basically 7-9 hours per night, which seems like a lot! Although there is no consensus on why we sleep, it is this amount of time that our body needs to go through all 4 sleep cycles so we can wake up refreshed and energetic. Ready to have another well-spent day. Is that why we should prioritize our sleep?
Sleep and memory
When sleeping, we’ll do a complete reset, the human version of ‘did you try turning it off and on again’ type of thing. For example, we need a good nights’ sleep before we can learn and fully memorize any new information. (This is so vital, that just one bad night can decrease memory function by 40%.) Additionally, the following nights’ sleep is used to store the new information of the past day, completing the cycle in terms of memory and learning.
Sleep and weight
That’s not all, going from our brain to our gut, a lack of sleep can dysregulate our metabolism. If we sleep for 5 hours per night, we have about 50% probability of being obese. Studies have shown that lack of sleep leads to increased weight, the reason why is not clear yet. One explanation is that we’re craving high fat, high carbohydrate, calorie dense foods when we’re sleepy. Other studies demonstrated that sleep deprivation makes complex decision-making more difficult, so instead of choosing the most nutritious foods, we’ll pick the easiest option, which is often of the unhealthy kind. But then, when we’re awake for longer, we’ve got more opportunities to eat too. It may be a combination of all and as it is challenging to determine cause and effect, more research is being carried out in this area.
Sleep and recovery & repair
Sleeping does wonders for our ability to recover, as our immune system releases proteins (called cytokines) when we’re sleeping. Some of these cytokines promote us to stay asleep and some need to increase when we fight an infection or inflammation. Sleep deprivation on the other hand, may decrease the production of these cytokines, plus, infection-fighting antibodies and cells are also reduced. This could explain why people who sleep for less than 7 hours a night catch a cold more easily (when sleeping 5 hours or less we’ve even got a higher chance of having a pneumonia). On top of that, long-term lack of sleep also increases your risk of cancer and diseases such as type 2 diabetes, Alzheimer’s disease, and cardiovascular disease. In the spring, on the Monday following daylight savings time, the occurrence of heart attacks rises with 24%, followed by a decrease of occurrence of heart attacks of 21% in the autumn. A great illustration of what just one hour difference of sleep can do to our body.
So, what can we do? It’s small changes in our daily habits that have the most impact when optimizing sleep, and preventing sleep issues. For most of us, incorporating these routines will have a direct effect on our sleep quality. For example, go to bed at the same time each day, and wake up at the same time every day, about 8 hours later. Different parts of our life can impact these sleep promoting habits:
When drinking coffee, do this between 10.30 and 12 in the morning. Stay away from caffeinated drinks for the rest of the day as caffeine stays in your body for 10 hours after consumption.
Finish your dinner at least 3 hours before bedtime. And do not drink alcohol at least 3 hours before bedtime too.
Some vitamins and micronutrients are important too. Magnesium helps muscles relax and regulates neurotransmission, while L-tryptophan helps melatonin production in the brain. Both are found in bananas!
One hour before bed, turn off all overhead lights and bright lights to support melatonin production. The blue light from devices interferes with our melatonin production, so turn all devices off, at least a half hour before bed.
Relax your brain by reading a book or meditate to get into sleep mode for half an hour before bedtime. Or take a hot bath, as this lowers your body temperature, and add some magnesium salts, for muscle relaxation.
Exercise for 30 minutes between 7 and 12 in the morning.
Avoid heavy exercise 2 hours before bedtime.
One hour before bed, do not have difficult conversations that will excite your stress system.
When sleeping with a partner, cuddle before falling asleep to stimulate oxytocin production which induces sleep.
When you wake up, get as much exposure to sunlight as possible, for 30 minutes. You can use a sunlight lamp or even better, go outside.
Invest in an excellent pillow for sleep quality.
Turn the bedroom temperature down to 18 degrees Celsius.
Some hormones influence our sleep, so reduce cortisol spikes by reducing stress during the day and waking up to natural light or a sunlight lamp. Melatonin production is also influenced by light, so get enough sunlight throughout the day but especially in the morning.
Your bed is for sleeping, no devices should be anywhere near it. Turn your alarm clock away from you, so that light doesn’t interfere with your circadian rhythm.
Do you find yourself tossing and turning not being able to sleep? The stress and frustration of the inability to fall asleep can build up, so break that cycle. Get out of bed, go to another room, and do something calm, like reading. Only return to your bed when you are feeling truly sleepy. Get up at your regular wake-up time to get plenty of (sun)light.
Did you get a good nights’ sleep last night? How did you make that happen? I’d love to hear your story in the comments below.
Do you need a more thorough approach to a better night? Let’s talk!
Good night and sleep well 😴