Why do we need sleep?
Like other many other systems of the human body sleep isn’t fully understood and there is new research coming out about it every month.
There isn’t one part of your emotional, mental or physical performance that’s not affected by the quality of your sleep. Sleep deprivation leads to low concentration, low mood and reduced cognitive function. It could also lead to; diabetes, cancer, obesity, immunology issues, memory loss, depression, low libido and more.
Poor sleepers are:
- 7 times more likely to feel helpless
- 5 times more likely to feel alone
- 3 times more likely to struggle to concentrate
- Twice as likely to suffer fatigue
- Twice as likely to have relationship problems
- Twice as likely to have low mood
- Twice as likely to struggle to be productive
We need sleep for:
- Hormonal balance
- Brain Function
So if this is the case why do so many people struggle with it?
Is it an effect of the 21st Century way of living? Is lack of sleep the payoff for our over worked, busy, ‘too many balls in the air’ lives? Many people don’t give sleep the attention it deserves!
Lack of sleep can make you fat
Ever get cravings for fatty, sugary foods when you are tired or not had enough sleep? This is your body or more specifically your brain trying to get more energy (glucose) ….FAST! It does this by making you reach for the type of foods that give the fastest energy hit. Unfortunately these are the types of foods that will cause our bodies to hang onto fat and create yet more cravings. Your body is amazingly adaptive and in these situations it doesn’t care about your skinny jeans, it cares about survival.
Sleep is ‘anabolic’ which means it builds and repairs muscle. Keeping and gaining muscle mass is important in the weight loss game, especially for women age 40+.
Even one night’s sleep can lead to ‘insulin resistance’. This is when your body cannot regulate its blood sugar levels and can lead to belly fat.
Hormonal changes when a women is age 40+ (peri-menopause) can cause women to get night sweats. The fluctuating levels of estrogen and progesterone cause the hypothalamus to misinterpret the body’s temperature. It thinks the body is hotter than it is sending all the blood to the skin surface and to sweat to cool the body down. All the tips below will help with night sweats and may help the daytime hot flushes.
- Create the ideal sleeping space
Is your bedroom clear of clutter, cool, relaxing, dark and screen free? This is the perfect environment for a long, restful sleep.Make your bedroom your sanctuary for sleep and sex.
Regular relaxation/meditation/mindfulness/breathing or other stress reduction methods can be very useful in the quest for better or longer duration sleep.Experiment with different models and find something that works for you. Something as simple as 5 minutes of deep belly breathing can have a big impact.
- Marvellous Magnesium
Include foods which contain this wonder nutrient. It is said that magnesium is responsible for over 300 bodily functions and that 80% of the western world are deficient in it. Magnesium can help with relaxation, stress management and sleep. There are two ways to get magnesium; through digestion or through your skin (transdermal).Foods containing magnesium include: nuts, seeds, green leafy veg, fish, beans, dark chocolate, and avocados Transdermal methods include a magnesium spray that is massaged into the skin (great for sleep, tight muscle and restless legs) and a soak in an Epsom salts bath.Oral supplements can also be useful, there are different types of magnesium. See link below to find out the best oneshttp://www.naturalnews.com/046401_magnesium_dietary_supplements_nutrient_absorption.html
- Reduce alcohol & caffeine
Alcohol – A glass of wine may relax you in the evening but is it really helping you sleep well? “Research has found that female who drink woke up more often in the night, stayed awake longer and slept for less time overall, than men.” (Shawn Stevenson – Sleep Smarter). Not only that but alcohol consumption may have you needing to urinate in the middle of the night. If you are keen on a tipple or two try having a few alcohol free evenings and notice if you sleep better or for longer.Caffeine – It’s time to say goodbye, farewell and adios to caffeine if you have sleep issues. Yes it’s a great stimulant and can make you feel more awake and productive but at what cost? Using caffeine for ‘energy’ can be a vicious cycle for the insomniac. By using caffeine you are over riding your body’s signals telling you that ‘hey! I need some rest here”’. So while you feel more awake your body is having to battle with fatigue which is not good in the long run. As a regular consumer your body will build up a tolerance, do you find you need more to get the hit?If you can’t face giving up your fix (and I hear you!) then reduce it to one or two cups before lunchtime.Warning: If you are a caffeine junky and you want to have a break wean yourself of slowly or you will feel terrible. Headaches, fatigue and generally bad mood may follow if you go cold turkey! Like alcohol try and have a few caffeine free days a week.
- Bring me sunshine….
Sunlight will help regulate sleep patterns. Getting sunlight/daylight during the day helps set your circadian rhythm. This 24 hour clock is regulated by the hypothalamus in the brain. The hypothalamus is thought of as the ‘master gland’ as it controls the body’s endocrine system (hormone system). It controls body temperature, thirst, hunger, tiredness and sleep cycle. So when you receive sunlight the light signals your hypothalamus to wake up. This wake up signal tells the body to secrete the optimal levels of daytime hormones like cortisol. Too little sunlight during the day and too much light in the evening can interfere with your natural sleep cycle.Let’s not forget the healing power of the sun on mood, skin and our immune system. Let’s face we all feel better in the summer right?
- I like to move it, move it
Gentle exercise like yoga, stretch and pilates can aid a restful night’s sleep. Walking outside not only gives you a good dose of daylight to stimulate the right hormones it is a great relaxing exercise. Research has shown that people who exercise in the morning sleep better at night.Cardio junkie insomniac? Long hours of cardio exercise (e.g. long distance running) may need to be replaced with shorter sprint type workouts and/or weight lifting sessions to help you sleep. Avoid more intense exercise later in the day or evening as this increases cortisol which affects sleep. This may not fit it with your work or life schedule so don’t ‘sweat it’, just do your best to work with your body and cycles. Figure out what works for you and your body.
- OOOOOrgasms and sex
When you have an orgasm you release a cocktail of sleep inducing hormones. Need I say more?Stress is a big part of insomnia and orgasm is very relaxing, let’s face it, it is pretty much impossible to be worrying about work the next day as you climax. Remember you don’t need a partner to orgasm 😉
- Stress-less to sleep-more
“Most of us are kept awake by the “racing mind” at some point in our lives – and the results reinforce the role thoughts often have in disturbing our sleep. Worries about tomorrow and the day’s events are the most common thoughts that bother us at night. In terms of physical factors, our bodily functions (such as needing to go to the toilet) affect the greatest number of people.” (www.sleepio.com/2012report/#impactOfPoorSleep)There are many ways to reduce stress and some have been covered. If stress is something that you suffer with then it’s really worth experimenting with different methods.Here are some ideas:
- Keep a journal beside you bed and write down all your worries and concerns
- Try coaching, counselling or therapy
- Play with different relaxation techniques; meditation, breathing, guided relaxation, meditation classes, apps, power naps,
- Share with friends, partners etc