LISA RALEIGH: Like many things, the right amount of sleep is all about balance. Studies have shown that those who sleep for less than six-and-a-half hours or more than eight-and-a-half hours usually have more body fat. The perfect balance lies between seven and eight, although there are exceptions – athletes, for example, often need more rest.
Sleep is such an integral part of our body's’ functioning and is so often underestimated! Some effects of lack of sleep include:
Training too late in the day (after 6pm) can raise your body temperature and rev your metabolism to the point where you can disrupt your sleeping patterns. Caffeine is an obvious one. It doesn’t only keep you awake, it also pushes your internal clock back so you want to sleep later. Each cell in your body has its own circadian clock and caffeine disrupts a core component of it.
The sugars in alcohol and carbohydrates also often keep us awake if we indulge too late, as the body is still fired up while metabolising them. Snacking before bedtime, particularly high sugar or carb snacks might prevent you getting a good sleep. Environment also plays a big role. By now we all know the effects of blue light from electronic devices simulates the daylight that promotes us staying awake. Time on your phone and laptop right before bed is a no-no.
Stress is one of the leading causes of insomnia, and also has a self-perpetuating effect, since lack of sleep adds more stress to the body and mind. Chronic stress will boost your heart rate and blood pressure and can permanently raise your levels of cortisol – which in turn compromises your sleep more.
Certain heart medications commonly cause sleep problems, as do herbal varieties that are designed to stimulate mental or physical activity. Sleeping tablets are also a bad idea, as the body builds up a tolerance over time, often promoting insomnia. Vitamin and mineral deficiencies can also play a role. Omega-3, for example, promotes a better quality sleep, as does magnesium.
We have REM and non-REM sleep. We dream in both states, but REM is thought to be the more active stages of sleep, where we process problems and address our fears versus the deeper, less active dreams of non-REM sleep. We need both, but too much REM sleep shows less proper rest, as well as more depressive tendencies. An activity tracker can help you monitor your sleeping patterns and see how many hours of deep sleep you get each night, and at what time.
The length of your sleep also doesn’t always represent the quality of your sleep. Interrupted sleep (typically meaning four prolonged awakenings across eight hours in bed) has a more detrimental effect on the body than restricted sleep (i.e. if you only slept for four uninterrupted hours).
Insomnia is very real, but it most commonly is a result of a mismanaged lifestyle versus simply being ‘inherent’. Once you have become someone who suffers from chronic insomnia though, positive changes in your lifestyle take a longer time to improve your sleep quality than someone who has simply not been sleeping well lately.
Absolutely. Just 30 minutes of exercise three times a week can boost your sleep over time. 150 minutes of moderate to vigorous activity a week, which is the national guideline, can offer those formerly not exercising a whopping 65 percent improvement in sleep quality. On the flip side, those who get a poor night’s sleep almost always exercise for a shorter period than usual the following day.
Unplug. Not only is the content on your laptop or phone stimulating, but electronics emit a blue hue that mimics daylight. Try turn off all gadgets an hour before bedtime.
Watch the caffeine: whether it’s caffeine, cola, dark chocolate or cappuccinos, it may be time to cut back. Caffeine tolerance is unique to the individual, so try gauge your limits. Either way, play it safe and make your last dose around noon. A brisk walk is just as energising as caffeine.
Don’t overhydrate. Downing too much liquid at night guarantees midnight bathroom runs. Even though your body helps by naturally reducing urine production during sleep, aim to cut off liquids at least an hour before bed.
Build a comfy nest. Considering how many hours you spend in your bed, it may be time for an upgrade. Most mattresses last from five to ten years, and if yours is sagging it won’t provide the support you need.
Keep your room tidy. People who make their beds before sleep report better rest. This may be because stress levels are lower in a tidy and organised environment.
Adjust your aircon. If you have an aircon, set it to around 18 degrees. This is the temperature at which researchers have found your body can stay comfortable without having to do anything like shiver or perspire.
Stock up on scents. Lavender is always associated with better sleep, so spritz your pillow with a linen spray or pop a few drops under your pillow.
Greasy, fatty foods not only make you feel sluggish the next morning, they can disrupt your sleep as well. Your stomach works overtime to digest all that food, causing discomfort if you eat them soon before sleep. Keep the fast food and ice cream away from bedtime. Sugary, high carb foods are also worth skipping – these require fast digestion, spiking your sugar levels before bed.