In a perfect world we would all get 8 to 10 hours of uninterrupted deep sleep every night but that’s not the reality for most of us with jobs, deadlines and families. Quality sleep has a bigger impact on our overall health than we realise; it is far more impactful than just energizing us for the next morning. Even if a large quantity of sleep isn’t possible, you can make the few hours you do get count and reap all the benefits of quality sleep!
Why sleep is important:
It’s not just about being well rested; sleep provides an array of benefits. Sleep:
Helps Your Brain Function
As you sleep, your brain is preparing for tomorrow. A good night’s sleep improves learning, problem solving and helps you make better decisions. 1
Keeps You Healthy
Not getting enough sleep for a long period of time may negatively influence your health. 1
Stages of sleep
Quality really matters when it comes to getting a bit of shut-eye. Have you ever slept 8 hours and not felt refreshed at all? Or taken a 20-minute power nap and felt great? It all has to do with which stage of sleep you are able to achieve. Here’s how to tell what stage of sleep you are in:
Stage 1 Theta Waves: Relaxed wakefulness.
Stage 2 Theta Waves: Easily awakened, dreaming is rare.
Stage 3 Delta Waves: Deep sleep, transition between light and deep sleep.
Stage 4 Delta Waves: Bodily repair and cellular restoration. Builds and repairs our bodies.
Stage 5 REM: Stands for Rapid Eye Movement. Dreaming state.
Deep delta stage is what allows us to reap the benefits mentioned above. The goal should be to reach this phase even if you are only able to get a few hours of sleep.
Easy ways to get you into delta sleep every night:
Sleeping Mask: This is one of my favourite tools, as it is cost-effective, great for travel and works wonders. I like a mask with a little bit of weight to it; it feels calming and blocks out the light that may interfere with your sleep.
In fact, light is one of the most important external factors getting in the way of rest because it interferes with our internal clock.3 This can be from sunlight if you are trying to catch a nap during the day, or artificial light, if your flatmates are watching TV when you’re trying to catch shut-eye, or light pollution for us city dwellers.
Blackout Curtains: Another cost-effective option is blackout curtains for your bedroom. If you need or want to sleep after sunrise they are totally worth it. Don’t worry, many companies make blackout curtains in various colours, so get that interior design hat on!
Sleep App: There is an app for everything, including helping you to fall asleep. I use one almost every night that helps me relax. A quick search will bring up a variety of options like soothing sounds, calming music or breathing exercises that help you relax.
No Screens Before Bed: Watching TV or using a mobile device is a massive no-no when trying to hit that delta sleep stage. The blue light these devices give off suppresses the hormone that helps us sleep, melatonin, interfering with our sleep cycle. 3 , 4
If possible, try not to watch TV, use phones or tablets, within an hour of going to bed. This may be a hard habit to break (trust me, I’ve tried scrolling through Pinterest and Facebook as a sleep aid, but we all know how that goes…). Try your best to kick this habit. But in the meantime you can wean yourself off with some functional night time glasses that have a red tint to block out the blue light they emit, called blublockers. Another great option is getting an app for your smartphone or tablet that acts the same way as the blublocker glasses. They operate on a timer and naturally change the screen during night time hours. 4
Bedtime snacks: You’ve probably heard it's best to have your last meal at least 3 hours before bed, which is true. However, sometimes we fancy a light snack; why not try our delicious Cashew Vanilla and Coconut Balls as a pre-sleep treat.
We don’t always have control over the amount of sleep we are able to get each night, but we can take control over these easy steps to make what sleep we do have count!
1. National Institutes of Health, National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute. Why is Sleep Important? Accessed on 2/22/16 from: http://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/health-topics/topics/sdd/why
2. Spiegel K et al. (2004). Brief Communication: Sleep Curtailment in Healthy Young Men Is Associated with Decreased Leptin Levels, Elevated Ghrelin Levels, and Increased Hunger and Appetite. Annuals of Internal Medicine.
3. Harvard Medical School. (2007) External Factors that Influence Sleep. Accessed 1/18/16 from: http://healthysleep.med.harvard.edu/healthy/science/how/external-factors
4. Harvard Medical School. (2015). Blue light has a dark side. Harvard Health Publications. Accessed 1/18/16 from: http://www.health.harvard.edu/staying-healthy/blue-light-has-a-dark-side