Sleep is one of the biggest contributing factors to excellent physical and mental health and wellbeing but its importance is sometimes overshadowed by the media focus on healthy eating and exercise. Insufficient sleep can impact quite detrimentally on your health in a variety of different ways.
The amount of sleep we need varies from person to person, but on average the majority of us need about 8 hours a night. Young children and teens may need more as sleep supports their growth and development. When we sleep our brains have the chance to repair and rebalance the hormones that govern the emotions that help us to stay calm, relaxed and happy. It corrects any chemical imbalances and leaves us rested therefore we are more alert and energetic when we wake.
Studies show that a consistent lack of sleep can also lead to weight gain. Tiredness can cause your brain to crave high calorie foods for energy but when your body is tired, it isn’t as effective at breaking down fat cells and tissues, so fat is stored more easily. You are less likely to want to exercise due to low energy and general sluggishness. According to a leading insomnia specialist, Kathryn Pinkham, a good night’s sleep can balance out the hormone fluctuations that provoke appetite.
Our immune system needs sleep to be able to function properly. If we don’t get enough sleep it can affect how the it responds to infection, making it harder to fight off coughs and colds for example. However, you can boost your immune system by using a sauna or steam room where the heat dilates blood vessels thereby increasing circulation throughout the body. The heat can also help to relax you leading to better sleep.
Sleep can also help to rejuvenate your skin as it rebalances the hydration levels in the body. While we sleep there is a rise in growth hormones which allows damaged cells to be repaired. Lack of sleep results in under eye puffiness, dryness and the appearance of more wrinkles. It also leads to increased stress hormones in the body which can lead to the increase in the breakdown of collagen which gives the skin its firmness and translucency. If the skin cells don’t get a chance to repair themselves, the result is a more noticeable sign of ageing.
The less we sleep, the more it affects our mental wellbeing. According to Mind, the mental health charity, it can be a vicious circle: If you have a mental health problem it can affect how you sleep and poor sleep can have a negative impact on your mental health. Not enough sleep can lead to negative thoughts and can leave you feeling anxious or depressed. Tiredness can leave you feeling physically and mentally unable to cope with the day ahead, and can be quite isolating as you don’t feel up to socialising with others.
So what is the best way to ensure a good night’s sleep?
There are many suggestions on how to do this and again, it will vary from person to person. Generally, the time before bed should be calm and relaxed rather than spent in front of a screen with flashing images or loud music! Take a warm bath, try some breathing exercises, drink warm milk, spray lavender fragrance onto your pillow, or even meditate. Doing regular physical exercise can also help with sleep.
Avoid caffeine drinks and don’t go to bed either too hungry or too full. Create a routine of doing the same soothing actions each night so that your body learns it is time to sleep. Make sure your bedroom is well ventilated and that your mattress and pillows are comfortable.
For more information on the above and how best to combat sleeplessness please visit these websites: