Why is sleep so important?

Mental Health

Em Batger

How many of you out there can raise your hand and say you get 7-9 hours sleep every night? 

I looked into the sleep app on my watch just before I sat down to write this and I’m averaging 7.5. I mean I would always like more as I’m sure is the case for most when the alarm sounds in the morning. That snooze button is forever tempting.  

Sleep is one of the biggest restorative activities that we as humans can do. Arguably just as important (if not more) that a healthy diet and regular exercise; yet it’s something that’s neglected by a large majority of us. Why? Because life gets in the way. Busy schedules; social lives; work stress; kids keeping us up; disruptive sleep environments; call all eat into precious sleep minutes that begin to accumulate over time.  

This is called sleep debt; and just like all debts it’s not ideal and not always easy to repay. If you routinely lose sleep or choose to sleep less than needed that time adds up. Lets say you lose 1 hour sleep every night; that’s 7 hours of sleep debt over the course of a week. It is possible to take naps to boost short term alertness and performance but it’s no where near as restorative as night time sleep. This is particularly important to note for those that have regularly interrupted sleep timings such as shift workers, first responders or caregivers.  

What exactly is it about sleep? When we sleep our body is actually working overtime to recharge. 

Sleep is a down regulator of the nervous system. Many important bodily processes occur during sleep including protein synthesis, muscle repair, lymphatic drainage (boosts our immune system), tissue growth and hormone regulation of several important hormones such as cortisol and melatonin.  

Sleep is also where memories are made. Our minds are given the opportunity to process all the stimuli from our waking hours. During sleep neural connections are strengthened and memories consolidated so that we can then recall them in the future when we need to access that information. Our concentration and ability to recall such memories is made more efficient by adequate sleep.  

In short sleep is essential for cognitive and behavioural functions and overall this can then impact on our emotions and mood. 

There are a few simple things you can do to try and establish some healthier sleeping habits; 

  • Set a realistic bed time and try to stick with it. Yes this applies to the weekends (where possible) Staying up late and sleeping in can be very disruptive to your internal body clock.  

  • Have a no screens in the bedroom rule. This is one of the best things we implemented in our house. No phones and no TV. 

  • Do regular exercise and try to spend time outside every day. An absolute must for me. Natural light, fresh air, vitamin D. Lots of good stuff!  

  • Try to avoid big meals, caffeine, alcohol and tobacco right before bed.  

  • Have a quiet and dark bedroom 

This list could go on but for me those are probably some of the top tips that are pretty easy for you to implement starting today! 

March 13-19 is Sleep Awareness Week with World Sleep Day being on the 15th.  

Its a great opportunity to raise awareness about the importance of sleep and how sleep deprivation can impact all of us.  

Em Batger

Please note: Em's blog is general advice only. For further information on this topic, please consult your healthcare professional.

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