Most of us know that sleep is important, that in fact, it’s vital to our physical and mental health. While some people say they are fine with a few hours of sleep, the majority of us thrive on eight-plus hours, allowing our bodies to heal and to prevent illnesses and increase our mental health.
But while we subconsciously know the importance of sleep, we forgo it for TV, work, computers and other media, and too many nights out.
A small study from the UK shows us why we need to turn off the bright lights, shorten the late nights, shut down our tablets and go home to sleep. Because regular, good sleep can decrease our risk of heart attacks, obesity, diabetes and poor mental health.
The University of Surrey conducted a small sleep study in 26 people, having them sleep for up to 10 hours per night for a week, and then fewer than six hours for another week. When analyzing the blood samples of the participants for both weeks, researchers found that over 700 genes in their bodies had changed due to the difference in sleep.
These genes were in charge of building proteins in the body and these patterns changed, depending on how much sleep the participants had had. On the week with less than six hours of sleep, the activity of these genes had become more sluggish, thus changing how the body performed.
These changes were found to be detrimental to the proper functioning of the body’s immune system, especially as related to the ability of the body to heal and its reaction to stress. The healthy performance of the immune system is very important for heart health, mental health, blood sugar, weight control and other health conditions.
One of the researchers, Prof. Colin Smith from the University of Surrey, talked to the BBC about these findings that really impacted the ability of the body to regenerate if lacking sleep.
“There was quite a dramatic change in activity in many different kinds of genes,” he said.
“Clearly sleep is critical to rebuilding the body and maintaining a functional state, all kinds of damage appear to occur - hinting at what may lead to ill health.If we can't actually replenish and replace new cells, then that's going to lead to degenerative diseases."
An abstract of this study can be read here.
So how do we go about getting better sleep? The first thing we need to do is change our mindset about sleep. Sleep is not a luxury -- it’s vital to our health.
Most of us know how we feel after a terrible night’s sleep so imagine what it's like for our bodies -- exhausted, unable to properly regenerate cells for healing, and unable to face stress (both mental and physical) properly.
When this happens over and over, as the study above indicated, the body may ultimately malfunction, unable to keep itself healthy. This ultimately leaves us susceptible to poor heart health, poor overall physical health and poor mental health.
Bearing in mind the above, we need to make sleep a high priority. And -- bonus! -- giving our children a healthy sleep schedule which is instrumental in maintaining their health, gives us more opportunity to turn in early ourselves.
Work will always be there, no matter how late we stay on our laptops.
We must start winding down an hour or so before bedtime. Turn off the media. Flashing signs, noise and over-stimulation will keep us up.
Don’t exercise late, it can keep us up due to increased adrenalin. Yoga or meditation is a better option. Relax in the bath, perhaps with a good book that’s not too exciting!
EmpowHER expert Dr. Dae Jones suggests a nightly routine that we should stick to. In Part 3 of her series “The Importance of Sleep”, she suggests employing good “sleep hygiene” (habits) by not falling asleep with the TV on and turning off all devices as their lights (even charger lights) can affect sleep.
Making the room as dark as possible is really helpful. She also tells us that our levels of cortisol (a stress hormone) are key to good sleep. Our cortisol levels are at their lowest about 10:30 p.m., she says, making 10 p.m. a good time to go to bed.
There are other ways to ensure better sleep.
Clean sheets and a clean room with good air quality helps. People sleep better in a cooler room rather than one that’s warm. For some, white noise or sleeping with a fan on can lessen the chance of waking up.
Staying away from caffeine or too much alcohol will avoid over-stimulation, and going to the bathroom right before bed can help to prevent interrupted sleep.
For those facing insomnia or who may have mental health issues that affect their sleep, talking to their doctors is key. And for shift workers, maximizing daytime sleep and using the same sleep hygiene techniques is important.
Try to get as much sleep as non-shift workers and ask others around you to help by eliminating noise, keeping phones off, and not disturbing you while you sleep. A plan to eventually move off from shift work should also be a priority if possible.
As we can see, good sleep should never be considered a luxury for weekends or vacations. It must be part of our healthy lifestyle in order to allow our bodies to get and stay well.
There is an Irish proverb that says, “A good laugh and a long sleep are the two best cures in the doctor's book”. And I think most doctors would agree.
BBC.com. BBC News Health. “Bad sleep 'dramatically' alters body”, by James Gallagher. Web. Retrieved June 10th, 2104.
Empowher.com. Mental Health. Sleep Disorders. “The Importance of Sleep Part 3”, by Dr. Daemon Jones. Web. Retrieved June 10th, 2014.
Reviewed June 10, 2014
by Michele Blacksberg RN
Edited by Jody Smith
Add a Comment1 Comments
Any changes to your routine for the better are going to offer positive results, and sleep is one of the most important things our body requires to cope with the stresses of everyday life. When you get enough sleep and your body gets all the nutrients and vitamins necessary then it will run a lot more efficiently and smoothly, just like any kind of machinery after a service! Check out the link at http://www.brainwavelove.com/giving-the-body-what-it-wants/ for some really interesting information about what a healthy body needs to function properly and how the right nutrients can help heal yourself and make you feel so much better in just a short space of time.June 24, 2014 - 7:29am