I’ve heard many of my friends and clients say that they don’t need a lot of sleep.
You may be surprised by the consequences of too little sleep. Habitually sleeping less than six or seven hours a night suppresses your immune system, more than doubling your risk of cancer. It is also a lifestyle indicator of whether you will develop Alzheimer’s disease.
Bottom line, the less you sleep the shorter your lifespan. In my book, that’s something to take seriously. We are the only species that intentionally deprive ourselves of sleep without any benefit, according to Matthew Walker, author of Why We Sleep.
How do we benefit from sleep?
It keeps our weight in check. Lack of sleep also switches off a hormone that tells us we are sated and boosts a hormone that makes us feel hungry despite being full. If you don’t sleep enough, you will eat more, which is a recipe for weight gain.
How often have you gone to bed with a problem and woken up feeling clear headed about the direction you need to take? Sleep enhances many functions, including resetting our emotional brain pathways, helping us to deal with the many challenges we face on a daily basis, calmly and with clarity.
As a nutritionist, I believe that having a resilient immune system is vital to our health. Sleep replenishes our immune system, which helps us to resist cancer and infections. Sleep is essential in balancing our blood sugar. Sufficient sleep helps to keep our gut microbiome in good shape, which is the hub of our nutritional health. Sleep is also essential to keep our hearts healthy.
Getting enough sleep should be easy, so why is it that so many of us are sleep deprived?
Sadly, most of us are stressed, super-busy and are over-caffeinated. We live in a society that values productivity and activity above rest and relaxation. Sleep takes a back seat.
What about your circadian rhythm? We all have one, but they differ from person to person. Your 24-hour clock will help you to determine when you want to be awake and when you want to sleep. Most people are either ‘larks’, early to bed and early to rise, ‘night owls’ who prefer to go to bed late and get up late or you may fall somewhere in the middle.
Our modern world dictates that we should start work early and leave at a reasonable time. For the night owl’s rhythm, this can be challenging. If you are a night owl and trying to fit in, you may not get enough sleep and could be subject to higher rates of disease. Combine this with a dash of stress, poor diet and not enough play, the odds aren’t in your favour.
The good news is that you can adjust your body clock if you want to. Managing stress is key, since this causes the circadian rhythm to go haywire. The problem with coffee as a solution, is that it gets you through your morning but messes up your sleep pattern at night.
The causes of sleep disorders are wide and varied. To find the solution for you, you may need help in identifying what the underlying cause of the problem is in the first place.
What can you do to sleep better right now?
The first step is to make sleep a priority. Set a goal of getting at least eight hours of sleep a night. Ways to achieve a good night’s sleep include:
• Aim to have a regular schedule. Going to bed and getting up at the same time creates a sleep rhythm. Only use your bed for sleep and intimacy. Remove the television from the bedroom, since artificial light can disrupt brain activity and alter sleep hormones like melatonin.
• Avoid digital devices and television for around two hours before bed.
• Avoid alcohol as it causes interruptions in sleep and poor quality of sleep even though it will initially help you to fall asleep.
• Avoid tea and coffee since both disrupt sleep rhythms.
• Avoid eating three hours before going to bed.
• Aim to get at least 20 minutes of sunshine every day, preferably in the morning since this will trigger your brain to release hormones that regulate sleep cycles.
• Switch you phone and WIFI off at night and keep devices in a different room to your bedroom.
• Write down anything that is on your to do list or worrying you in a notebook next to your bed and let yourself know that tomorrow you’ll feel more refreshed to come up with clear and practical solutions.
• Perform light yoga or stretching before bed.
• Do meditation, guided visualisations or breathing to calm your mind and help you to drift into sleep.
These are the basics to kick start better sleeping patterns. On the supplement front, magnesium is a good place to start. Most people are deficient in this mineral and it’s not toxic at daily doses up to 800mg.
If you are still struggling to sleep and need advice on other supplements, I would recommend that you talk to a qualified nutritionist or healthcare practitioner for advice. You may have food sensitivities, thyroid problems, hormonal imbalances and other factors interfering with your sleep.
It’s never too late to make changes to your lifestyle. Include foods in your diet that are healthy and will boost your immunes system such as leafy greens, garlic, broccoli, ginger, mushrooms, healthy fats (olive oil, fatty fish and seeds), turmeric, organic chicken, blueberries, green tea, almonds and other colourful vegetables.
Look at why you may be stressed and how you can manage this better on a day to day basis. Getting enough sleep is a great way to start working on your gut and mental health. Sleep is an essential part of our lives. It helps our body to rest, recharge and repair. If you want your immune system to work optimally, you need to sleep optimally.
Sleep is a gift. Combine sleep with good nutrition and sufficient exercise, you could be beating the odds to living a long and healthy life. Sleep is the essential ingredient that nourishes our brain and body every day.