Why Is Sleep Important: How Can You Improve Your Sleep Cycle
By Dr. Stacey Coulthard (Osteopath)
With the silly season coming to an end its time to have a talk about sleep and why it’s such a vital part of life! If an adult sleeps 8 hours a night, they will spend on average a third of their life in bed. No matter how hectic life is if you’re spending this much time in bed it’s important to start prioritising your sleep. They do call it beauty sleep for a reason.
Sleep helps regulates vital bodily processes such as muscle repair, our metabolism and can improve our overall physical and mental wellbeing (Worley, 2018). Research has shown that by having inadequate sleep not only do you have delayed muscular recovery and increased fatigue, but you can also additionally have risk of developing poor immune health, cardiovascular disease, obesity, and mood disorders (to only name a few) (Worley, 2018). Despite this there are many factors that can disrupt our sleep and circadian rhythm that are completely out of our control.
So, what is our circadian rhythm?
Unfortunately, it’s not a one size fits all concept, and many internal and external factors can disrupt our circadian rhythm day to day. Think of it as a 24-hour clock. You will have periods of low to high energy levels throughout the day and periods where your body is ready for rest (Reddy et al., 2022). This sleep/wake cycle is necessary to replenish and heal the body to ensure that it all its bodily processes can function optimally (Reddy et al., 2022). The key is aiming to get this clock consistent, with similar sleep and wake times every day to allow for longer and better sleep throughout the night.
Simple steps to improve your sleep:
1. Create a routine: Whether you decide to have a relaxing bath, put on a face mask, or brush your teeth, having a consistent routine before bed can prompt your mind to get ready for bed (Sleep foundation, 2022). So, take time and think about a few things that will help you wind down and get ready for bed.
2. Limit blue light exposure: Blue light can negatively affect our circadian rhythm by decreasing sleep inducing hormones (i.e. melatonin) and increase the adrenal hormones (i.e. andrenocortisol) that help keep us awake and alert (Zhao, 2018). Blue light is in any electronic device even including E-readers. To combat this (if your device allows) you can activate a blue light filter, wear blue light protective glasses or better yet remove the device completely from your night-time routine.
3. Breath work: Instead of counting down the hours or minutes of potential sleep you might try focusing on your breath. Relaxation techniques like coherent breathing involve you inhaling and exhaling through your nose at the same rate for extended periods. For example, inhale for 5 seconds and immediately exhale for another 5 seconds. Continue to repeat this practice across a 5-minute period to increase those sleep-inducing hormones (melatonin production) and down regulate your nervous system putting you in the perfect place to get that well deserved rest (Laborde, 2019).
4. Check your bedding: This includes not only having clean bedding, but a comfortable mattress and pillow that is going to keep you supported throughout the night. For optimal sleep a medium to firm mattress and memory foam pillow are recommended to assist in your temperature control and body alignment allowing you to wake up feeling refreshed (Stavrou, 2022; Caggiari, 2021).
5. Exposure to light: Now you might be confused, but to improve your circadian rhythm, aim to have exposure to natural light first thing in the morning - the earlier the better! Not only does this help with regulating your internal body clock but it can ensure you are able to get a longer deeper sleep without waking up throughout the night (Blume et al, 2019).
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