Everyone, regardless of social class, gender, sexuality and age absolutely loves a fab night’s sleep. That glorious feeling of deep relaxation to the point of merging with your mattress can only be described as heavenly. Waking in the morning to the realization that hours have passed you by and you feel mentally and physically able to face the day with enthusiasm should be a right of passage and yet why do so many of us find it so difficult to achieve what seems to be such an easy thing to do?
So what is sleep?
Sleeping is the beginning of your biological day ahead – it is the time when your body repairs itself as well as processing emotions and consolidating memories. The hormone melatonin is released by the pineal gland and this controls your sleep patterns. Levels of this hormone increase at night time and this in turn makes you feel sleepy. Whilst you are asleep your pituitary gland releases growth hormone which helps your body to grow and repair itself. Your brain has an opportunity to do a quick spring clean of itself by storing new information and decluttering by getting rid of toxic waste. There is a lot of nerve cell activity which helps to support healthy brain function and in turn various hormones and proteins are produced to repair the body in general.
What are the stages of sleep and what do they do?
There are 5 stages to sleep. The first stage is very light sleep with muscle tone and breathing rate at basically the same rate as wakefulness. Stage 2 is the same but just a little deeper. Stages 3 and 4 is when deep sleep occurs. People in this stage of sleep are often difficult to rouse and are quite groggy should they be woken. As humans, when we get older, we spend less time in these stages and more time in stage 2. Stage 5 of sleep is the stage we associate with dreaming. It is very different from the other stages of sleep. Breathing rate is more erratic and irregular and the heart rate often increases. It is thought that the muscles remain calm as a way of protection from physical harm. Each of the listed stages serve in a unique way for brain and body restoration. So it doesn’t take a genius to work out that if you aren’t getting the whole deal then you are going to feel a bit off your game.
The odd missed or bad night’s sleep isn’t anything to worry about but should it become a regularity then your brain starts to fog making it hard to concentrate, increasing the likelihood of accidents happening. Driving whilst very tired is definitely not a good idea either for yourself or others. If you do feel very tired then try to get someone else to drive or consider alternative transport.
Regular, good quality sleep is thought to be a contributing factor when it comes to staying slim. Sleep deprived folk are believed to have lower levels of the leptin, which is the chemical that makes you feel full, and ghrelin which, in turn, makes you feel hungry so if you are trying to stay on track weight wise then try to get enough sleep.
Those of us who like to enjoy a good sex life also need a good sleep life as lack of sleep is linked to low libido - so get snoozing. In turn, if you are trying to conceive a baby, again sleep is vital, as lack of sleep is thought to reduce the secretion of reproductive hormones.
So what can you do to help yourself achieve a good night’s rest? Go to bed roughly at the same time every day and rise roughly 8 hours later, including weekends. Some of us need more and some of us need less than the 8 hours, don’t worry, what matters is working out what you need so as not to feel tired the next day and then that is the correct amount for you. Make sure that your bedroom represents a haven of calm to you. Don’t have a pile of ironing in the corner and your tablet within reach. Try not to watch tv – just follow a nightly ritual of bathing and self pampering, followed by some mindfulness and relaxation techniques or, at the most, read a non challenging book. Listening to calming music can also help. Keep the bedroom dark and cool. Avoid drinking any drinks containing caffeine after 2pm and don’t over eat close to bed. There should be at least 2-3 hours after your last meal before bedtime. Most of us enjoy a tipple but unfortunately one of the negatives to alcohol consumption is that it disrupts sleep. You can initially find it easy to fall asleep but not to stay asleep.
With all areas of life, wellbeing can be supported by positive affirmation, meditation and visualization of the end goal. If you can find an overall calm sense of mind then sleep should follow more easily. If you are going through a particular time of stress then writing down key points can help you to find peace. By writing the troubles down it helps to free the mind of carrying around any issues which can, in turn, disrupt sleep.
Keeping your weight down can help reduce snoring which is disruptive not only to the person snoring but can drive anyone in the near vicinity to distraction but there is also a sleep condition that should not just be considered annoying but which can be quite serious. Sleep apnoea is a condition that should be referred to a medical professional. The main symptoms of sleep apnoea include making gasping and choking noises whilst you sleep and feeling very tired during the day time. Other signs of this condition include dry mouth and sore thoat, morning headache and difficulty concentrating during the day. If you suffer from this condition then you are not experiencing the 1-5 sleep stages mentioned early and thus your body is not going through it’s restorative stages, which can in the long term, lead to serious health conditions relating to the heart and cardiovascular systems and indeed, depending on the severity, can increase your risk of heart attack or death. Should you suspect either yourself or your loved one might be suffering from sleep apnoea then please seek out medical help. It is better to be safe than sorry and no one is going to think anything negative of you for asking for advice.
As human beings, we are destined to have a busy, hectic but hopefully fun and full filling life and in order to get full whack out of that then we need to ensure we have bags of get up and go and in order to do this we need to sleep – otherwise we might find our get up and go has got up and gone – and wouldn’t that be a tragedy?.