Hi everyone! This article is a part of my wellbeing blog. Last time I addressed the importance of exercise, and the benefits you can gain from regularly keeping fit. In this issue, I want to be able to convince you of the significance that sleep can have on our lives. Admittedly, this is something that I can improve on myself; sometimes managing the workload and your time can be tricky. However, there are some very convincing reasons as to why you should take your rest more seriously.
The scientific explanations for these effects are quite interesting. We have an internal ‘body clock’, which manages when we feel tired, and when we feel alert and refreshed. It works on a circadian rhythm – a 24 hour cycle. As you stay awake in the day, you become more tired, and these feelings peak at night when it is time to sleep. Scientists think this is due to a compound called adenosine, and that the gradual increase of it through the day causes you to be tired. The body then breaks down the adenosine when you sleep.
Also, light is something that influences this rhythm, as a region of cells in the hypothalamus in the brain is responsible for processing signals, and it tells your body whether you are being exposed to natural or artificial light. Therefore, our brain is able to distinguish between whether it is day or night. When natural light is gone, the body releases melatonin to make you drowsy, and when it is present, cortisol is released to make you energetic.
There are many benefits of getting more sleep. Some of these are listed below:
- Improves concentration and productivity
- Boosts athletic performance
- Helps you to maintain or lose weight
- Can strengthen your heart
- It affects sugar metabolism and reduces type 2 diabetes risk
- Reduces risk of depression and other mental health conditions
- Supports a healthy immune system
- No risk of increased inflammation (which can occur with poor sleep)
- Positively affects management of emotions and social interactions
- Keeps you safe (less risk of you not paying attention for example when driving a car)
Sleep is a crucial part of our lives – in fact we spend around one third of our lives asleep. We require between seven and nine hours a night as adults, with children and teens needing even more. This is so that cognitive and behavioural functions can work properly, as sleep deprivation can cause lack of concentration, delayed reactions and changes in mood. Loss of sleep also can lead to being more at risk of certain medical conditions, such as type 2 diabetes, obesity, heart diseases, high blood pressure and poor mental health. Furthermore, giving yourself a longer period of sleep means that your body is able to repair itself, and our brain has time to both consolidate and process information.
So, how can you improve your sleep? You should be aware of four factors – your environment, attitude, lifestyle and health.
Your environment is where you sleep, and the places that you associate with it – mainly the bedroom and bed. It is recommended that you shouldn’t be on your phone, watch TV, or eat in bed (which may be easier said than done!), because this can affect the quality of your sleep. As well as this, adjust temperature, noise levels and light until you are satisfied, since these factors also contribute to determining our rest.
Attitude is all about being relaxed before bed, or else you could keep yourself awake with worry. Before going to sleep, try to relax. This could be by using a warm bath, reading a book, or having a warm milky drink.
Eating, drinking and the amount of exercise you get are all lifestyle choices impacting sleep. For example, caffeine makes it harder to sleep, so avoid drinking coffee, and sugary foods can make sleep uncomfortable, so you should steer clear of those. Exercise should be done in the day, but doing this in the evening is not as helpful before sleep due to the release of adrenaline.
Poor health affects sleep, and vice versa. Health issues can contribute to keeping you awake, so it is important to make sure you get these checked out if you have any concerns.
Overall, sleep is integral to helping you in many aspects, whether it is health wise or functioning well in the day. With GCSE, AS and A level exams on the horizon, I hope this article has been especially useful to you, and has convinced you of the need to have good sleep!
By Imaan Rashid