Sleep is one of the major key players in creating long term, vital and sustainable health.

Without enough good quality sleep, we are left feeling run-down, sluggish, irritable and out of alignment. If you want to feel your absolute best and be the most epic version of yourself possible, then it’s time to start prioritising sleep and turning good quality sleep into one of your non-negotiables.

It took me years to truly understand the importance of sleep – in fact, looking back now, I really am shocked at how I neglected my body by not making sleep a priority. I really struggled getting to sleep and staying asleep that before long, it actually became a burden and I stopped trying all together. It was only when I went on my journey towards healing my gut and my hormones that I really grasped how important sleep is for not only your physical health, but your mental health as well.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again – we live in a society where being busy is almost the definition of being worthy and successful. How sad is that? Rather than ranking our worthiness based on our levels of self-care or our success on our happiness, we rank them based on how much we get done in the shortest amount of time possible. Being tired and not getting enough sleep is almost worn as a badge of honour, but let me tell you, it is a badge of dishonour because you are not prioritising the most precious thing in your life – your body. I’ve heard it so many times: “I’ll sleep when I’m dead” or “I just don’t have enough time to sleep for 8 hours” or “…. prevents me from getting enough sleep”. We’ve strayed so far from establishing sleep patterns that make us thrive, that we now see it as life – sluggish, tired, unmotivated life. Well, it’s time to change that and get your sleep your number one health priority – especially if you have others that are dependent on you. If you feel run-down, drained, are struggling to focus and have a low mood, then it’s time to look into your sleep patterns.

Quality Sleep

Why do we need sleep?

During sleep:

During periods of sleep, a lot goes on inside of our bodies to help them function at their best and thrive. It’s a time when our internal organs rest and have time to recover after working hard during the day – I mean, just think about our poor livers and how much detoxifying they have to do over the course of the day let alone our hearts and lungs having to work extra hard during periods of stress or physical activity.

It’s a time for tissue repair, muscle growth and protein synthesis. Sleep helps with memory consolidation and the formation & storage of new memories – which is essential for learning and processing new information (key for our survival). On top of that, hormones that help to regulate appetite control, stress, growth, metabolism and other bodily functions are released. You can see how a lack of sleep can therefore lead to poor food choices, increased stress and a decreased metabolism.

Benefits:

Getting enough, good quality sleep can really be a game changer for our health and wellbeing – in short, it’s essential for optimum health and for helping our bodies to thrive both inside and outside. Some of the benefits are:

  • Increased energy
  • Better decision making
  • Improved cognitive function
  • Better ability to deal with stress
  • Strengthened immune system
  • Heightened alertness, focus and creativity
  • Improved mood
  • Reduced anxiety
  • Reduced irritability
  • Less likely to experience burn out
  • Increased libido

Sleep deprivation:

So, we know all the benefits of getting those Z’s in, but what about if we deprive our bodies of that rest and repair time?

Weight Gain

During sleep, hormones that regulate appetite control and stress are released into our bodies. When we don’t get enough sleep, this may lead to poor food choices over the course of the following day. For example, you might eat a surplus of calories as a result of feeling hungry more often, or because you’re reaching for those sugary foods to get you through ‘slumps’ during the day. Due to increased tiredness, you might not be as clear headed as you might be if you achieved the recommended amount of sleep and therefore make food choices that you probably don’t usually make.

Stress responses also lead to poor food choices. If we don’t get enough sleep then our stress levels are heightened and that can lead to cravings and reaching for those sugary foods and drinks. In both cases, if this happens every now and again, you might not notice a massive difference in your weight. However, if this happens regularly, then it could lead to unwanted weight gain.

Increased risk of chronic disease

Without sleep, you are more susceptible to stress and your immune system doesn’t function as optimally as it should. Stress has been linked with high blood pressure, heart disease, fatigue and burnout. If you’re immune system isn’t functioning at its best, then you’re also more likely to catch colds and flu viruses.

During sleep, insulin is released to help control blood sugar levels. Without this being released throughout the night there is an increase in inflammatory proteins within the blood as well as an increase in blood sugar levels. In short, chronic short sleep duration has been associated with hypertension, obesity, diabetes and cardiovascular disease.

Increased risk of injuries

Due to the mental and physical exhaustion of not getting enough sleep, you might be at an increased risk of having an accident or injuring yourself. Your brain isn’t as alert as it should be and therefore you might be a bit more ‘clumsy’ than usual.

Decline in cognitive function

As sleep is a time for memory consolidation, short sleep cycles can hinder mental performance and impair your ability to process new information. This might affect areas of your life such as your work and career or even juggling all those plates and to-do lists during the day. When you get enough sleep, your mind is sharper, you’re more focused and have a higher level of cognitive function. So if you want to be your most productive self then get that extra hour in bed rather than staying up late to finish a project.

As well as this, your overall mood is impacted. It can increase anxiety and cause you to have trouble keeping your emotions in check. For example, have you ever felt you snapped quicker when you didn’t get enough sleep the night before? You might experience a shorter temper, increased feelings of irritability, anxiety, sadness and even anger.


A good night’s sleep:

As you can see, getting a good night’s sleep is imperative for both your mental and physical health. The next few tips will help you cultivate better quality sleep in your life so that your body can thrive!

Nutrition

  • Try and eat 3 hours before you go to bed. Not only will this give your digestive system enough time to get all that work done before you go to sleep, but it will also allow your brain and body to use up the energy you ate before you try and switch off.
  • Aim to cut out the late-night snacking. Your digestion requires energy and if you eat sugary foods (or any foods) too close to bed-time, your body will switch on again to digest that food.
  • Enjoy a lighter meal in the evening, making sure that it’s a well-balanced plate of food. Avoid over-eating and stuffing your body full of food so your digestive system doesn’t have to work so hard just before going to bed. Think about fuelling your body with delicious whole foods and vegetables.
  • Limit your sugar and caffeine intake as these are both stimulants and may result in you finding it challenging to fall asleep.
  • Lastly, avoid those late night beverages – anything apart from water – as even decaffeinated teas and coffees are diuretics and may result in those midnight bathroom trips.

Environment

  • Think about the environment you choose to sleep in. Does it promote feelings of relaxation and calm? Or, is it stimulating? Make sure that you create a peaceful bedroom for you to fall asleep in – a room dedicated to purely re-energising you for the morning.
  • Personally, I don’t like bringing in any form of technology into my bedroom (apart from an alarm clock). I turn my phone onto airplane mode so the Wi-Fi is turned off and I don’t receive any notifications throughout the night. I use black-out curtains and an eye mask to block out the light (any light causes a disturbance in your sleep). I make sure the room always smells fresh & clean and is free of any clutter and I avoid looking at my phone for a couple of hours before going to sleep.
  • Find out what environment works for you and promotes a restorative sleep for you. Experiment with mattresses, colours, smells, aromatherapy, reducing your exposure to light, removing electronics and decluttering. Turn your bedroom into your sleep sanctuary.

Daily routine

  • As well as establishing a morning routine, I’m a firm believer in cultivating a loving and calming evening routine. Assess your evening activities and if they are too stimulating and overwhelming for you. Try to experiment with restorative evening activities that leave you feeling peaceful and relaxed. For example, I love to do my Sudoku puzzles, having a bath with essential oils or some gentle yoga and stretching.
  • Create a specific bedtime routine and stick with it every night. When we were kids, our bedtime routine signalled to our brains and bodies that it was time to wind down. The problem with not having a daily bedtime routine as adults is that we are more stimulated than ever before, yet we are not signalling to our bodies that it’s time to sleep – therefore, it takes longer to wind down and even fall asleep. Decide on a suitable and realistic amount of time you have to dedicate to your bedtime routine and then establish one that works for you.
  • Reduce ‘busy brain’ at night. Try to switch off your mind as much as possible before heading to bed. You are aiming to be in a state of relaxation and feeling calm before you let your head hit the pillow. If you suffer with ‘busy brain’, try jotting down your thoughts onto paper, journaling, meditating or deep breathing. I’ve also written a whole post on how to fall asleep when you’re stressed so check that out!
  • Finally, there are so many apps and devices available now that allow you to track your sleep. I find these fascinating and used one for years! If you’re curious about how much sleep you really get, then this is a great idea to give you an insight into your sleeping patterns.

To listen to the podcast episode click on the links below:

iTunes

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