Federated Health Charities’ mission is to improve the health and quality of life of Ontarians. We believe education and prevention are key parts of this. Check out our latest Health Hint on how to the importance of sleep!
Sleep is essential to your health on a fundamental level, much like breathing and eating. Sleep processes restore the mind and body to maintain heathy functioning while you are awake. There are different types of sleep stages, each with its own restorative purpose. The REM sleep stage is important for maintaining brain function, including the efficiency of your nerve cells and their communication with each other. Deep sleep is one of the non-REM stages your body enters and is very important for restorative processes. This is the time your body focuses on tissue growth and muscle repair. Research has also indicated this sleep stage is involved in improving immune system function to help prevent diseases and fight infection. You will naturally cycle through sleep stages multiple times in one night. The longer you sleep, the more likely you will spend adequate amounts of time in each sleep stage.
What happens when you are chronically sleep-deprived?
Because sleep is fundamental to our well-being, going without enough sleep, especially on a regular basis, can lead to chronic health problems. When you sleep, your mind is forming new pathways for learning and memory retention. As a result, getting enough sleep is important for learning new skills, participating fully in school, and excelling at on-the-job learning. Sleep deprivation is associated with lower decision making and problem solving abilities. Chronic sleep deprivation can also negatively affect your mental state and is associated with a high risk for depression.
When you sleep, your body is involved in maintaining your heart and blood vessels. Because of the restorative properties sleep has on your cardiovascular system, not getting enough sleep can also lead to physical health problems including heart disease, high blood pressure, kidney disease, and stroke. Finally, sleep deficiency has also been linked to obesity. Sleep deficiency can result in elevated blood sugar levels as well as increased hunger, which can cause us to over-eat.
Many people can be chronically sleep deprived and not even know it! Getting enough sleep is vital for healthy functioning, even if you feel you can make do with little of it.
How to improve your sleep:
There are several things you can do to improve the quality of your sleep. Firstly, try to keep a regular daily schedule. Your body performs better when it knows what to expect out of its day. This means waking up and going to bed at roughly the same time each day. Your body’s circadian rhythm (internal body clock) will adjust to your schedule, as long as you are consistent.
If you have difficulty falling asleep at night, try to develop better sleep hygiene. This involves a simple and consistent set of tasks or rituals you perform every night before bed. This could include brushing your teeth and hair, putting on your favourite pyjamas, making yourself an herbal, non-caffeinated tea, and reading a book for 20 minutes before bed. Regularity in your bedtime routine can you help your body prepare for sleep.
Try to avoid drinking alcohol or eating large meals (like dinner) three hours before your bedtime. This allows your body to do its digestion beforehand so it can focus on restorative sleep processes at night.
Your body is sensitive to environmental triggers like light and darkness. Avoid bright artificial light late in the evening, including your phone, TV, or laptop screen. Your body generates melatonin at night to help make you feel drowsy so you can fall asleep, however, its ability to do so depends on darker lighting conditions. Likewise, your body generates cortisol early in the morning to get you alert and ready to wake up. If waking up in the morning feels difficult, try investing in a light clock. These alarm clocks work by slowly increasing their light brightness at wake-up time, like a natural sunrise. This can help your body wake up to light instead of a dark room, further helping you improve your sleep cycle.
Finally, stress can hamper with our ability to get enough quality sleep. While we can’t completely control all the events in our lives, we can do our best to stay positive to prevent negative mental feedback loops. Try practicing mindfulness or other mediation techniques to improve anxiety and decrease stress. Remember, getting enough quality sleep is important to protecting your physical and mental health so you can enjoy a high quality of life.
We hope you’ve enjoyed our latest Health Hint!
Written by Jennifer Nemcik
NOTE: This article is intended to provide general health tips based on available research. You should consult with a health care professional for specific medical and dietary instructions that are right for you.