I know, you've been hearing it since you were a little child, "Go to sleep before ten o'clock" and "get 8 hours of sleep"! But is there more to resting than just the memories of our parents coaxing us to sleep early?
As the world reels from a Global Pandemic, people are putting more emphasis on their overall health. Whether that be physical health, gut health, emotional health or just getting outside more; the emphasis on the importance of good quality rest has taken a somewhat back seat.
Getting good quality rest is not as simple as climbing into bed and dimming the lights. Circadian rhythms, hormones like melatonin, and even the neurotransmitter dopamine play a role. There are still lots that scientists don’t understand about what happens when we drift off, but the more we learn, the more significant it becomes.
Let's talk about sleep and why it's so crucial to an individual’s well-being.
The science circling sleep is very clear: You must Prioritize (Good Quality) Sleep!
Aric Prather, a sleep scientist at UCSF explains why in an interview with WIRED: “Sleep is so critical for so many parts of our body and our mind. It strengthens the immune system and helps regulate metabolism. It can cleanse the body of toxins that build up in the brain and prevent neurodegenerative diseases. “Sleep is like the dishwasher of the brain".
He says that all phases of sleeping, "from the lightest slumber to the deepest unconsciousness, are important processes that allow our brains and bodies to recover from the previous day and can help us learn and remember information better."
Scientists have proven that abnormal sleep plays a role in diseases like Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s, particularly around Cognitive and Emotional Issues.
Measuring disturbed sleep could be one way to detect the onset of neurodegenerative diseases.
Eventually, medicines that help promote more natural sleep cycles could help treat those very diseases. “I’m excited about the future of sleep medicine,” said Prather.
So how do you determine if you are getting good quality rest? According to Sleep Foundation, regulating sleep quality is a 'little more of an art than a science.' Usually, good sleep quality is defined by the following components:
- You fall asleep soon after getting into bed, within 30 minutes or less.
- You typically sleep straight through the night, waking up no more than once per night.
- You’re able to sleep the recommended number of hours for your age group.
- You fall back asleep within 20 minutes if you do wake up.
- You feel rested, restored, and energized upon waking up in the morning
The recommended amount of sleep for an adult is 7-9 hours of 'good quality rest' per night. Not many adults manage 6 hours a night, especially during weekdays. Remember, sleep quality and sleep quantity is different!
What if you're not a good sleeper? Then you need to improve your sleep quality. This isn’t an impossible task; it just requires patience and determination. We call it 'sleep hygiene.' It's all about practising good habits that help you get good sleep on a regular basis.
Here's what you can do to 'up the hygiene of your sleep':
- Avoid watching television and using your phone or computer for at least 30 minutes before bedtime. Electronic devices emit bright blue light that your brain perceives as sunlight, tricking it into delaying sleep and keeping you awake longer than you need.
- Transform your bedroom or place of rest into a dark, quiet, and cool sanctuary. Make it comfortable and appealing. Don't use the heater too much in winter and use a heavy blanket. Use blackout curtains to get all light out or a white noise machine to further relax your senses.
- Try to snooze and awake at the same time every day. Following a regular sleep schedule will train your brain to recognise when it’s time to sleep and when it’s time to get up!
- Make sure your sleep schedule provides enough time for adequate rest.
- Create a relaxing bedtime habit every night. Whether that be taking a hot bath, reading a fiction book (non-fiction has been shown to make you more 'alert'), journaling or even just praying/meditating. Performing these activities in the same order every night creates a pattern for your brain to recognise them as the prelude to sleep.
- I know you don't want to hear this, but you need to limit your caffeine and alcohol intake! Both substances can stay in your system for a while and disrupt your sleep quality. Avoid drinking alcohol within three hours of bedtime and caffeine (just drink decaf) within five hours. So, if you're sleeping at 10 pm, you need to stop caffeine at 5 pm!
- Get some sunlight in the morning! A mere 15-30 minutes outside in the sun can help wake you up and reset your circadian rhythm naturally.
The benefits of good quality sleep are:
- An improvement in your attention and concentration spans
- Enhancement of skin health and maintaining healthy body weight
- A healthy heart
- A strong immune system
- Better emotional and overall mental wellbeing.
- Reduced stress levels.
If you still have trouble sleeping after implementing these recommendations, talk to your doctor. They may recommend other lifestyle changes, therapies, or medications that can improve your sleep quality.
So, what can we take away from all this? Instead of considering sleep to be a nuisance, maybe we’ll start finally seeing it for what it is: a fundamental part of our life that we must prioritise, much like going to the gym!