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Your Sleep Matters

When was the last time you had a really good night’s sleep? Your head hit the pillow and you were out like a light, or “sleeping like a baby” (have you ever actually known a baby to “sleep like a baby”?) and you were dead to the world until a natural and relaxed wake up 8 hours later. Did you then feel like you were ready to tackle any of the challenges life might throw at you?

We all know how bad we feel after we haven’t slept well, after a night of tossing and turning, we can’t get comfortable, we’re too hot, too cold, too enclosed, too open to the elements, and then the next day, everything is discoloured – we get easily irritable, overly emotional and if we have a few nights in a row like that, our bodies start to get unwell and then we’ve got illness to tackle as well as tiredness!

What is sleep?

So, why does our sleep matter so much? Firstly, from the purely physical point of view, when we sleep, we pass through 4 key stages that contribute to our general health and wellbeing.

We pass through a pattern of alternating NREM (Non-Rapid Eye Movement) and REM (Rapid Eye Movement) cycles, which repeat typically every 90 minutes.

Stage 1:

  • Between being awake and falling asleep
  • Light sleep

Stage 2:

  • Onset of sleep
  • Becoming disengaged from our surroundings
  • Breathing and heart rate become slow and regular
  • Body temperature drops (so sleeping in a cool room is helpful)

Stages 3 & 4:

  • Deepest and most restorative sleep
  • Blood pressure drops
  • Breathing becomes slower
  • Muscles relax
  • Blood supply to muscles increases
  • Tissue growth and repair occurs
  • Energy is restored
  • Hormones are released, such as growth hormone (essential for growth and development), thyroxine (regulates metabolism) and insulin (controls blood sugar levels)

REM sleepfirst occurs about 90 minutes after falling asleep and recurs about every 90 minutes, getting longer later into the night.

  • Provides energy to the brain and body
  • Supports daytime performance
  • Brain is active and dreams occur
  • Eyes dart back and forth
  • Body becomes immobile and relaxed as muscles are “switched off”

Hormone activity occurring at night:

  • Cortisol dips at bedtime and increases overnight to promote alertness in the morning
  • Ghrelin and Leptin (hormones that regulate our feeling of hunger and fullness) are balanced – so if we are sleep deprived we often feel the need to eat more, leading to weight gain.

A third of our lives is spent sleeping, and far from being unproductive time it plays a direct role in how full, energetic, and successful the other two-thirds of our lives are.

Why do we sleep?

There are all sorts of things happening inside your body whilst you are sleeping. These are all in making sure that your health and wellbeing is maintained and remains in a good state. Here are just a few of the amazing things your body is taking care of whilst you visit the land of nod:

Reduces stress If your body doesn’t get enough sleep it can react by producing an elevated level of stress hormones, resulting in higher incidents of depression and anxiety, plus other mental and emotional problems. Sleep helps to reduce stress by encouraging deep breathing and lowering heart rate.
Improves memory When you sleep well your body is resting, but your brain is busy organising and storing memories and information learned throughout the day. So, getting more quality sleep will help you remember and process everything better.
Lowers blood pressure Getting plenty of restful sleep encourages a constant state of relaxation which contributes to reducing high blood pressure and helps keep it under control.
Helps maintain weight Unfortunately, sleep won’t directly help you lose weight, but it will help you to keep it under control by regulating the hormones that affect your appetite and reducing your cravings for high calorific foods.
Boosts the immune system Whilst you’re sleeping your body is producing extra protein molecules that can strengthen your ability to fight infection. If you’re feeling a bit run down and you don’t want it to develop into anything more serious, go to bed early and gets lots of rest.
Improves mood Lack of sleep can make you grumpy, miserable, agitated, and more likely to snap at people around you. The better you sleep the better your ability to stay calm, controlled and reasonable.
Improves health Some research has shown that poor sleep may lead to type 2 diabetes by affecting how your body processes glucose. Also, regular sleep can lower stress and inflammation to your cardiovascular system (heart and lungs), which could reduce your risks of developing heart problems or having a Stroke.
Improves concentration Regular, good quality sleep can contribute towards making your brain more effective and productive, leading you to feel sharper, more attentive and focused throughout the day.
Repairs the body Sleep allows us to relax and gives our body time to divert necessary blood, protein molecules and essential hormones to parts of the body that may n extra attention due to injury or illness.

5 Tips to Improve Your Sleep

Our independent Occupational Therapist Julie Jennings Dip COT HCPC, has given us some handy tips to improve how we sleep:

Try to support your body’s natural rhythms

Going to sleep and getting up at the same time each day will help set your body’s internal clock and optimise the quality of sleep you get.

Be smart about napping – whilst naps can be a good way to occasionally catch up on lost sleep and allows you to pay off the occasional “sleep debt”, regular day-time napping can make things worse. Limit naps to 15-20 minutes in the early afternoon and no more than once a day. If you regularly feel drowsy after a meal, do something mildly stimulating to wake yourself up – go for a walk, prepare for the next day, undertake gentle exercise or catch up with a friend.

Control your exposure to light

Melatonin is a naturally occurring hormone controlled by light exposure that helps regulate your sleep-wake cycle. Your brain secretes more Melatonin when it’s dark, making you sleepy, and less when it’s light, making you more alert.

During the day – expose yourself to natural sunlight in the morning. Have your breakfast/meals outside or by a window; take an early morning walk; ensure blinds and curtains are open during the day to let in as much daylight as possible; work in natural daylight as much as you can. If necessary, use a light therapy box, which can simulate sunshine and can be especially useful during short, winter days.

During the night – avoid bright screens within 1-2 hours of your bedtime. The blue light emitted by most phones, tablets, computers, and TVs can be disruptive. Watching TV or playing computer games late at night will not only suppress Melatonin, they are also likely to be stimulating rather than relaxing, making it harder to fall asleep afterwards. Try listening to music or reading a book as part of your bedtime routine. Prepare your bedroom – ensure it is dark and cover any devices that emit a light. If you get up during the night and need a light source, use a nightlight or dimmed lighting; this will make it easier for you to fall back to sleep after.

Include regular exercise into your day

This is known to improve symptoms of insomnia and increases the amount of time you spend in deep, restorative sleep. The more vigorous you exercise, the more powerful the benefits, but even gentle exercise, such as walking for 10-20 minutes per day will improve sleep quality. Ensure you time your exercise right; exercise speeds up metabolism, elevates the body’s temperature and stimulates the “feel good” hormones. This is great if you exercise during the day but not so helpful too close to bedtime. Try to finish moderate to vigorous exercise 3 hours before bedtime and more gentle exercise 1 hour before. Relaxation, low impact yoga and gentle stretching as part of your bedtime routine can help promote sleep.

Think about what you eat and drink

Limit caffeine and nicotine as these are stimulants that will prevent your body from relaxing. Avoid eating heavy, rich foods 2 hours before bed as the digestive process will produce acids that prevent the body’s natural sleep cycles from kick-starting. Also, whilst you may think a “nightcap” helps you to relax and fall asleep, alcohol interferes with the body’s natural cardiac rhythms and prevents the brain from passing through its normal information processing cycle.

Try to wind down and clear your head

Holding onto stress, worry or anger from your day can interfere with sleep. Learning to manage your time better will prevent things from “piling up” and make you feel more in control. Set time aside during the day to do something you enjoy, as this will increase your feeling of personal satisfaction and include at least 10-20 minutes of physical activity into your day, to help your body feel stimulated. Regularly practice relaxation and deep breathing exercises to keep your heart rate down and reduce high blood pressure; four 5-minute deep breathing exercises spaced throughout the day will produce calming benefits, coupled with gentle relaxation and stretching exercises before bed.

Julie Jennings Dip COT HCPC checks and approves the design of all the luxuriously handmade Adjustable Beds that HSL make. If you feel like it’s time to upgrade your bed, then please visit a store, or make an appointment for a free Home Visit today.

Tested. Trusted. Recommended.

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