Your body doesn’t switch off when you shut your eyes – it’s working for your mood, weight loss and overall wellbeing. Here’s how:
- Sleep is as essential as keeping fit and eating well.
- Sleep is the third part of a healthy lifestyle along with healthy eating and regular exercise.
- Sleep plays a role in weight management.
Research shows that people who slept eight and a half hours a night lost almost twice as much weight as people who got five and a half hours sleep each night. And women with poor sleep habits gain more weight than women who sleep well too. So if your weight has hit a plateau or the scales are creeping up, you might want to reassess your sleeping hapits. Without enough sleep your hormones are out of whack and you body craves sugar, fat and high-GI foods.
Sleep resets your brain
When you sleep, your brain ‘resets’ itself for the next day. Poor sleep means your brain will be operating at sub-par levels during the day. You probably won’t think as well, you might make bad decisions and you’ll have poorer reaction times. This can be dangerous, especially when it comes to activities such as driving. Put simply,you’ll be a poorer version of yourself. The other thing a lack of sleep can contribute to is your mood. Without good sleep you can end up irritable, snappy and teary, which impacts on your personal and professional relationships.
Your body will try to compensate by tapping into the adrenal glands and sending hits of cortisol, the ‘stress hormone’, to the body, which acts like little caffeine shots. While this may work in the short-term, it’s not good in the long run as frequent spikes in cortisol can lead to high blood pressure and weight gain. Cortisol-withdrawal is also the reason why even after having a great sleep following a few nights of poor sleep, you still feel tired. Your body is coming down from the effects of increased cortisol.
Consistent good sleep promotes a healthy heart and helps you stay well too
Getting enough shut-eye each night can lead to a significant reduction in the incidence of heart disease. People who exercise, eat well, drink moderately and don’t smoke have a 57 per cent lower risk of developing heart disease compared to those who don’t have these healthy behaviours. Throw regular nights of good sleep into the mix and that risk reduction jumps to 65 per cent.
It’s not just your heart that’s affected by your sleep habits. Many chronic diseases can be linked to long-term poor sleep, too, such as diabetes, stroke and depression. Long-term short sleepers have an overall increased risk of mortality. Some research also indicates that sleep helps regulate your immune system, and that a lack of sleep reduces the amount and effectiveness of the natural bug killers your body produces. If you’re consistently getting less than five-and-a-half hours of sleep a night, your immune system suffers.
Take control of your sleep. If you are having trouble getting to sleep and staying asleep talk to your GP.
Source: WeightWatchers.Co.NZ, Prof David Hillman from Sleep Health Foundation and Dr Ginni Mansberg.
We think about it constantly. It’s as important as eating, breathing and walking the dog, but for many people sleep often plays hard-to-get.
Here are some easy tips to help maximise those eight+ hours a night.
1. Set your alarm clock for the same time each day
Getting up in the morning is never pleasant but going to bed and getting up at similar times each day is the best way to train your body. This lets our internal body clock build a strong sleep wake cycle. Yes, even weekends, although sleeping in makes sense if you have had a series of late nights and have to catch up on lost sleep.
2. Make your bedroom as sleep friendly as possible
The bedroom should be quiet, dark and always comfortable. Getting the right room temperature is essential, along with a comfortable bed, pillows and bedding. Electronic devices, such as mobile phones, tablets and laptops are a danger zone for distraction, so best to leave them outside the bedroom. If you have a clock that you can see in the night, turn it around to face the wall.
3. Start your sleep wind down at least two hours before bed
Many of us need to wind down before going to bed. Exercise is great to clear your mind and help you sleep but try and steer clear of it late in the evening. Also make sure your last meal of the day is at least two hours before bed. In the hour before bed, avoid computer games and using any mobile devices. TV shows that overstimulate are also not a good idea. It also pays to keep the TV out of the bedroom.
4. Spending too much time napping during the day
Only nap if you really need to. If so, try to keep the nap short, no more than 20 minutes. Naps longer than this can make you feel groggy for a while afterwards. Also try not to nap past mid- afternoon as this can make it hard to get to sleep at the right time at night.
5. Don’t stay in bed if you are unable to sleep
Staying in bed if you can’t sleep can often make you feel more annoyed and frustrated. It is better to get out of bed and go to another quiet, dimly lit room. Stay there until you feel sleepy. Sleepiness comes in waves, wait for yours and then go back to bed. To stay in bed feeling upset can start to build a link in your mind between the bed and lack of sleep. This is the opposite of what you need to sleep.
6. Thinking the problem with your sleep is worse than it really is
Many people who find it hard to either get to sleep or stay asleep become more worried about it. It is also common for people to think they have less sleep than they really do. Often poor sleepers are not good at knowing whether they are awake or asleep. Use relaxation as one of the techniques to help. Tell yourself that rest is good, even if you are not asleep. Remember sleep is the best medicine in town.
If you continue to have problems and can’t sort these out for yourself, there is plenty of help available and your doctor will know how to access it for you.
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