How to Sleep Well and Stay Healthy
Here is all you need to know about sleep
By Dr Julie Moltke
What is sleep?
Every living person on the planet needs it. Sleep is a naturally occurring state of altered consciousness, decreased muscle activity and reduced interaction with the surrounding world. Sleeping is a part of homeostasis, the ability of our body to keep a stable internal environment by keeping things like pH, body temperature, hormones and blood sugar within a narrow range of operating conditions.
When you are sleep-deprived you get increased levels of stress hormones in the blood which in turn makes it harder to sleep. During sleep, your body normally goes into an anabolic mode (building new molecules), so the body can maintain and repair itself. It is also during sleep that essential memory consolidation happens, and it is no surprise that sleep deprivation is associated with fatigue, impaired memorisation and concentration skills.
What happens when you are deprived of your sleep?
If you feel that you become more irritable, have a hard time planning things or deal with your emotions, or struggle to find the right words even after shorter periods of sleep deprivation it is all normal: According to a review from 2010 (1), the brain areas that are involved with emotional processing, mood, planning, concentration and speaking show decreased activity if you do not get enough sleep. But this is not all, sleep deprivation has also been shown to increase the risk of developing diabetes, heart disease, increase the sensation of pain and alter the immune response. Studies show that more than 24 hours without sleep can cause symptoms of paranoia and hallucinations. The longest a person ever stayed awake without sleep was 266 hours (11 days)(1).
How much sleep do you need?
The World Health organisation recommends that adults sleep between 7-9 hours, even though it may vary between people how much sleep they need to feel rested. It is important to remember that children and teenagers need more sleep as their brain is still developing, so don’t despair when you are dragging your lazy teenager out of bed in the morning as they can need as much as 10 hours of sleep per day.
What are the reasons for insomnia?
With the many external demands and modern days excessive information input it is not surprising that the biggest reason for insomnia is anxiety and stress. It might seem smart to start solving the task of tomorrow in your mind when laying down to get your beauty sleep, but it is usually the wrong way to enter the land of dreams and restoration. Other reasons for insomnia can be an unhealthy lifestyle with a lack of exercise and a diet high in sugar, intake of caffeine in the hours before going to bed, jet lack or external circumstances like noise or lousy sleeping conditions. Another reason that contributes to insomnia today is the use of artificial light from TV’s, computers and laptops in the hour just before going to bed.
Dr Julies best tips for maintaining good sleep hygiene
Make a good sleeping habit: try to wake up and go to bed at the same time every day. If you sleep in at the weekend don’t overdo it, this will make it easier to get back to your sleeping habit.
Maintain right sleeping conditions: A cool, dark bedroom without too much artificial light.
Keep electronics out of the bedroom: Try to stay away from your phone, TV or computer the last hour before going to bed as the artificial screen-light is extremely bad for your natural sleep cycle.
Get an alarm clock and leave the phone outside the bedroom by the end of your bed. As a bonus, this might even make you more present and improve your intimate relationship with your partner.
Stop drinking caffeine-rich drinks including coffee and teas high on caffeine at least 6 hours before going to bed.
Don’t drink alcohol before going to bed: A few glasses of wine might seem like a good idea if you are stressed and want to relax, but the truth is that alcohol consumption before bed decreases the quality of sleep and make you more prone to wake up during the night.
Exercise during the day, but not too close to bedtime. Two hours before going to bed you should only do relaxed activities like yoga poses for sleep or an evening walk.
Do something relaxing the last hour before going to bed like reading a book or taking a bath. Make sure not to do work related stuff just before going to bed.