The Importance of Sleep

Not getting a good night sleep really isn’t getting any of us ahead. It can make us sick; it can make us fat as well as age us at an accelerated rate.

Lack of sleep affects several hormones and metabolic processes in the body. Studies have shown that just a week of sleep deprivation can cause significant alterations in glucose tolerance making you more susceptible to diabetes and cardiovascular disease.

For those of us who are over-stimulated, over-anxious, light sleepers or early wakers vitamin B6 and the minerals calcium and magnesium are nature’s tranquilisers. They calm down nerve activity and can help to give you a better night’s sleep (as well as preventing night cramps). Foods like sesame seeds, almonds and green leafy vegetables are excellent sources of calcium and magnesium.

Sleep deprivation can also cause weight gain. Studies have shown the greatest risk for obesity to be when one gets two to fours hours of sleep per night that is disrupted by binge eating. The lowest BMI was associated with people who got an average of 7.7 hours of sleep per night. So guess what happens to those excess calories? That’s right. They get stored away, usually right on your butt, thighs, and belly.

Sleep deprivation has been shown to lower leptin (an appetite-suppressing hormone produced by fat cells, which is normally produced in abundance at night) and increase ghrelin, (a hormone released by the stomach that stimulates hunger, which is also secreted at night but normally in lesser amounts).

You’ve probably heard of cortisol. It has become a buzzword associated with stress and belly fat. Cortisol has its purpose and place. It helps our bodies respond to stress appropriately so that we don’t become ill. We need cortisol in the right amounts and at the right times. However, bedtime is not when you want your cortisol to be high as it heightens alertness.

Sleeping Koala

Top tips to a good nights sleep

  • Avoid all stimulants after 4pm
  • Substitute tea and coffee with herbal varieties such as camomile or valerian.
  • Eat calcium and magnesium rich foods.
  • Consider supplementing with a magnesium, zinc and B6 complex.
  • Don’t watch TV or work on your laptop till late. A Study by the Mayo clinic recently showed that 2 hours of looking at a computer, TV or laptop reduces your melatonin levels by up to 23%.
  • Stick to a sleep schedule: Go to bed and get up at the same time every day, even on weekends, holidays and days off. Being consistent reinforces your body’s sleep-wake cycle and helps promote better sleep at night.
  • Create a bedtime ritual
  • Do the same things each night to tell your body it’s time to wind down. This might include taking a warm bath or shower, reading a book, or listening to soothing music — preferably with the lights dimmed. Relaxing activities can promote better sleep by easing the transition between wakefulness and drowsiness.
  • Create your bat cave! – Create a room that’s ideal for sleeping. Often, this means cool, dark and quiet. Consider using room-darkening shades, earplugs, a fan or other devices to create an environment that suits.
  • Include physical activity in your daily routine. Regular physical activity can promote better sleep, helping you to fall asleep faster and to enjoy deeper sleep. Timing is important, though. If you exercise too close to bedtime, you might be too energized to fall asleep. If this seems to be an issue for you, exercise earlier in the day.
  • Manage stress – a big one! – When you have too much to do — and too much to think about — your sleep is likely to suffer. To help restore peace, consider healthy ways to manage stress. Start with the basics, such as getting organized, setting priorities and delegating tasks. Give yourself permission to take a break when you need one. Jot down what’s on your mind and then set it aside for
  • Take and observe 10 calming breaths before retiring.

Finally…consider the the power of an afternoon nap. Research shows that people who napped 10-30 mins at around 2-3pm were 37% less likely to die of heart disease.

Written by Matt Ryan-Gill.