It’s fair to say that most people’s sleep routines have taken a hit in the light of recent world events. Many people have found that they can’t fall asleep at night, only to be tired the next afternoon and in the need of a fuzzy-headed nap. A vicious cycle! However, the importance of sleep on physical and mental health can’t be overestimated.
If you have a “sleep when you’re dead” mindset, think again. Making sure you get your 7+ hours of zzz’s can lengthen your lifespan, reduce the risk of serious illness, and even help to keep your weight at a healthy level.
Read on to find out why you should prioritize sleep, with a few tips for how to improve your sleep routine.
Sleep protects your heart
One of the biggest health issues to kill adults is heart disease, with an alarming fatality rate in the USA. While a healthy diet, regular exercise, avoiding cigarettes, and limiting alcohol intake are crucial to heart health, so is healthy sleep.
Because a lack of sleep can cause increased inflammation and high blood pressure, the heart, in turn, is compromised. Next time you’re considering working that extra hour late into the night, consider your heart, put the laptop away, and go to bed.
Sleep helps you to maintain a healthy weight
People who have poor sleep habits and who don’t get enough restful sleep are more likely to carry extra weight around the belly. You see, when you cut down on sleep, your hormones can become totally out of whack.
For example, leptin, the hormone that tells your body that it’s full and satiated, is reduced when you don’t get enough sleep. This leads to more feelings of hunger, and a higher rish of overeating during the day. Makes sense, right? When you’ve had a long night of work (or leisure) it’s common to crave a juicy burger and a slew of snacks the next day.
What’s more, poor sleep increases another hormone, ghrelin. Ghrelin makes you feel hungry and even tells your body to stash away stored fat. The poorer your sleep, the more ghrelin your body will produce, causing overeating and a little too much stored fat, ultimately hiking up your weight. Poor sleep (as well as stress) also raises cortisol levels, which leads to more fat around the belly.
In other words, if you’ve got a weight goal to reach (a safe and realistic one that fits with your height, build, and lifestyle), make 8 hours of sleep a priority.
Sleep makes your brain sharper
Have you ever been told to “sleep on it” before making a big decision or to “get a good night’s sleep” before a big exam or test? That’s because restful sleep supports your mental function. When you are asleep, your body is doing the hard yards to keep your attention and memory sharp.
Like a high-tech machine, your body sorts and files away memories from the day before, whether it’s what you had for dinner, or what you learned class. Without proper sleep, your brain will struggle to lock these memories in. This can be very unfortunate when you need to recall facts fro an exam or a presentation for work.
Proper sleep increases your attention, focus, problem-solving skills, responses, and even creativity. Think back to a time when you stayed up all night and had to go to work or school the next day. Did you feel scatter-brained, slow, and potentially even experienced similar feelings to that of a hangover? That’s sleep deprivation talking!
Sleep preserves your youthfulness… inside and outside
When you are asleep, your body doesn’t simply take a break. Quite the opposite. During sleep, your body goes into repair and restoration mode. As you sleep, your skin restores collagen and boosts blood flow to the cells. This helps to keep skin supple, firm, soft, and with fewer lines and wrinkles. What’s more, sleep is when your body’s anti-inflammatory processes kick into gear, helping to repair damage from the day before. This can include sun damage, exposure to city pollution, and chemicals from beauty products.
Another downside of poor sleep is that it boosts your cortisol levels. Not only does cortisol contribute to belly-fat weight gan, but it also reduces collagen production. By blocking collagen, high cortisol can lead to dry, dull, wrinkled skin, making you appear older and more tired. As if this wasn’t bad enough, excess cortisol can lead to acne.
Sleep protects your mental health
Many of us fall into a trap of prioritizing our work, our families, and the many responsibilities of adulthood over our sleep quality. What’s more, we also choose everything else over our mental health. Anxiety, depression, and mood swings can result, making life tough and void of joy.
Interestingly, sleep and mental health are closely related. Poor sleep means your body and mind don’t get a chance to reset, deal with the day’s events, and wake up alert and able to think clearly. If you have existing worries and anxieties, insufficient sleep can make them seem bigger and more unmanageable than they really are, leading to even more restless sleep.
While clinical depression and mental health disorders are a serious issue that must be addressed with the help of a professional, sleep can be a great way to start the healing process. If you are finding that anxiety and low feelings are affecting your sleep, it’s important to talk to your doctor. If you think that irritability or erratic emotions are due to poor sleep, put a sleep plan in place as soon as possible.
Sleep boosts your immunity
Now, more than ever, a strong immune system is an important aspect to focus on. While vitamin C-rich foods, echinacea, and B12 shots are great for boosting immunity, proper sleep is just as important.
As we sleep, our body creates cytokines, messenger proteins that speed to the site of inflammation and infection. What’s more, sleep boosts our T-cells, (immune cells) that fight viruses and infections. Sufficient sleep also helps the body to deal with stress adn stress tends to compromise our immune systems. We can take steps to stop this vicious cycle by improving our sleep duration and quality.
How to get better sleep
After all this talk of why you should prioritize sleep, let’s get to the how.
Of course, it’s easier said than done, especially if you’re dealing with years of poor sleep, or are under a lot of stress (even more reason to fix your sleep habits!). However, better sleep can be achieved with a little patience, perseverance, and professional intervention, if need be.
A proper mattress and pillow:
Start with your sleep tools. A poor mattress that causes aches, pains and excess movement between partners can lead to interrupted and light sleep. Over time, this can lead to a bigger problem, affecting your mental and physical health long term.
If your mattress is older than 10 years, seriously consider investing in a new one. Remember to read a variety of mattress reviews in Canada and pick a mattress that suits your sleep position and weight. A soft mattress suits side sleepers and lighter people. A medium-firm mattress suits back sleepers, and a firm mattress generally suits stomach sleepers and heavier people.
If you sleep with a partner, make sure your mattress has great motion isolation so you won’t be disturbed if your partner gets up or moves in the night.
The same goes for pillows, pick one that supports your head and neck according to your sleep position, and make sure it comes with a return policy and sleep trial so you can try it before you commit.
Diet and exercise:
Practice regular exercise and eat a diet filled with vitamin D, omega fatty acids, magnesium, melatonin, potassium, and B vitamins. Find an exercise method that makes you happy as well as raises your heart rate, such as dancing, yoga, or a jogging club. Muscle-building exercises such as weight training are also thought to improve sleep, so ask your local gym to give you a strength training program to work on.
Put down the screen:
It’s well-known that laptops and phones disrupt sleep due to the blue light they emit. They wreak havoc on your internal body clock and make deep sleep a challenge. Try to put down your tech two hours before bed, and get into a sleep-prep routine. This may involve a warm bath (also proven to help with sleep), herbal sleep drops, gentle
stretching, and reading.
Good luck with your new journey toward 7+ hours of sleep each night, your body will thank you! Remember, sufficient deep sleep supports heart health, immunity, mental health, healthy weight, and cognitive function.