The importance of Sleep

Sleep is probably the most overlooked element when it comes to health and performance. While you sleep different hormones are released and they go about repairing and recuperating you both physically and mentally. We know that around 50% of the population is sleep deprived, so that is half the population missing out on what is a vital ingredient of health, wellness and performance.  This problem not only affects adults but also teenagers and even young children. So how do you know if you’re getting enough sleep? And what can you do to ensure that you get a good night’s sleep?

It is Monday morning – your alarm sounds to get you up out of bed and to start the new week. Two things can happen here: you bounce up out of bed or you swear and hit the snooze button.  If its the former, you shower, have breakfast then get ready for work. If its the latter, you are now on the verge of being late, so a quick shower and coffee are all there is time for. This may be starting to sound all too familiar.

If you’re not getting enough sleep it is going to catch up with you. You cannot escape from it. Its effects can appear in many forms like : darks circles around your eyes, red blood shot eyes, struggling to focus or maintain concentration.  It might not sound too bad, but not being focused or not being able to concentrate can result in accidents that are not only dangerous to you but also the people around you.

sleepingSo how many hours sleep per night should we be getting? The answer as you probably already know is 8 hours. However with people sitting in front of computers or watching television for hours before finally going to bed most people only average 6½ hours sleep per night – that’s 90 mins less than they should be getting!

What can you do to ensure you not only get 8 hours sleep, but that you get 8 hours good quality sleep?  Well there are many things you can do. One of the most important things is to actually get to bed on time. If you need to be up at 6am you need to go to bed at 10pm to get your full 8 hours of sleep. You should also avoid watching television in bed – your bed is for sleeping not watching CSI. You may doze off but light and sound from the tv will wake you up again.

Turn off your mobile phone. Waking up to an SMS is not going to improve your chances of getting enough sleep. Chances are you will text them back and play SMS tennis for half an hour or so. I know what you’re going to say: what if it’s an emergency?” If it’s an emergency they will keep trying!

Now the distractions are gone, you can focus on the bedroom itself.The bedroom needs to be as dark and quiet as possible to ensure you are able to get good night ‘s sleep. Streetlights and noise from outside can make it difficult to fall asleep or can  wake you up. Good curtains or block out blinds can make a massive difference.

Many of the items I will mention can fall under the radar. What you eat or drink can impact on the way you sleep. Too much sugar, alcohol and or carbohydrates can elevate your blood sugar levels and your body works hard to bring these levels right down. Then your body may enter a state know as Hypoglycaemia where your blood sugar levels are now too low. The stress from this causes you to wake up and you will usually have a tough time falling back asleep.

There is also caffeine – most people love a coffee. Unfortunately caffeine is a stimulant – it triggers your adrenal glands to turn on and pump out cortisol. Cortisol is a breakdown hormone important to human function and health but when cortisol levels are high, other vital sleep and repair hormones do not function properly. Caffeine also has a chemical half life of 6 hours, so half of the caffeine from your coffee is still in your system 6 hours later. Therefore try to avoid coffee and caffeine after lunch. For more information about cortisol, check out my article on Stress.

There are so many more things that you can do to better equip yourself for a good night’s sleep. By implementing the few steps I have listed above you will definitely be on your way to your 8 hours in the land of nod, allowing you to bounce out of bed and perform to your full potential.

- Anthony

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