Sleep – the impact on healing and health

If you think you don’t get enough sleep, you’re probably not the only one. Recent studies show that only 15% of adults get the recommended amount of sleep each night. There is evidence which supports the importance of sleep for good health, general wellbeing, and overall quality of life. Sleep is thought to help keep the immune system strong and heart and blood vessels healthy. It allows for growth and healing and helps control appetite and weight.

Research shows that adults greatly benefit from between 7 and 9 hours of sleep per night. As we go through different cycles in life, our sleep needs change. Growing toddlers need between 11–14 hours, including naps; preschool kids need between 10–13 hours; school-age young people benefit from 9–12 hours, and our teens (14–17 years) need between 8–10 hours, and probably tend to shift a little later in the 24-hour clock (hello night owls!). Older adults need about the same amount of sleep as all adults—7 to 9 hours each night and can probably cope with a little bit less. However, older folks tend to go to sleep earlier and get up earlier than they did when they were younger.

Insufficient sleep can negatively affect health and has been linked to a range of problems with physical health, such as heart disease, high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes and even premature death, as well as with mental health, including depression and anxiety. It’s also pretty clear that our food and beverage choices, along with the timing of eating, exercise and changing stress levels can impact the quality and quantity of our sleep.

There are many reasons why people don’t get enough sleep. There are biological reasons where sleep quality may be impacted by a sleep disorder like sleep apnoea. Other reasons may be psychological and lifestyle, where at different stages in life, sleep needs can be put aside as people focus on other things in life. Sleep quality may also be affected by caffeine and alcohol, and the time in which we eat or exercise. There are several human bodily systems that depend on sleep. Sleep serves a lot of functions, one of which is supporting our energy requirements. A reduction in sleep time and quality decreases our neuroimmune systems defences and hormonal balance, reducing our ability to deal with airborne pathogens, along with stress, mood changes, and increases the risk of cardiovascular disease and neurodegenerative changes.

What contributes to sleeplessness:

Caffeine – certainly not a villain in this story, however the TIMING of our caffeine intake plays a key role in helpful sleep routines. Caffeine affects sleep pressure. Sleep pressure is the increasing desire to sleep as the chemical adenosine in your brain builds up. Caffeine conveniently blocks the receptors and can have an effect for 8-12hrs!

Alcohol – often an afterwork ritual, helpful to de-stress after a long day. The research in this field suggests that over time alcohol can negatively change body composition towards storing more fat, and is directly linked to increasing weight gain by interfering with our hunger. Alcohol has also been shown to contribute to increasing stress and anxiety.

Improving your evening restoration:

  • Keep you environment dark
  • Keep your body temperature cool
  • Avoid the stimulation that comes with scrolling devices or watching late night TV
  • Avoid alcohol (on a “school night”)
  • Eat at roughly the same time each day, within a 12 hour window
  • Reduce your starchy carb meals in the evening and eat them earlier in the day
  • Do your higher intensity workouts earlier in the day where possible, or gentle yoga or another low grade night time exercise to promote quality sleep
  • Practise an interoceptive, restful practice such as a mindfulness technique, meditation or breath-work

– Chanthalah Webster-Tight

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