The incredible value of sleep

In the last week I have been challenging my Wild Country Woman community to take action to sleep better. 

Those actions have been about creating sleep consistency (similar sleep and wake times each night), sleep duration (at least 7 hours) and sleep routine (turning off technology at least an hour before you go to bed, writing your to-do list for the next day before you go to sleep, and perhaps thinking about the highlights of your day before your drift off into a blissfully happy sleep!). 

The health benefits of a good night’s sleep are HUGE. It’s hugely beneficial for your recovery from exercise, for your weight loss efforts, for your brain health, for your hormonal health, for your immune system and your ability to cope with stress than any other remedy.

It seems like science is learning more and more about the value of sleep, about the reason why we (and all other animals) sleep. However, our lifestyles, entertainment, and even work can often be 'always on' and it's easy to let sleep fall down the list of priorities. 

Anyone who has had the privilege of a new born baby; who has struggled with insomnia; has had to do night shifts; or experienced jet lag, knows what it is like to experience the effects of sleep deprivation. These might be: 

  • Brain fog
  • Difficultly making decisions 
  • Cravings for sweet foods 
  • Surviving on caffeine
  • Emotional outbursts

You may not realised that your reaction times have slowed down (it’s worse that alcohol when it comes to driving). Lack of sleep has a huge impact on our mental and brain health. It slows down learning and affects our short term memory and contributes to all major psychiatric conditions. It disrupts hormone production. 

Lack of sleep has a negative effect on our immune system, making us more vulnerable to colds and flu, even cancer. It is a key lifestyle factor in your likelihood of getting dementia or Alzheimers. It disrupts blood sugar levels and has a negative effect on your arteries and disrupts the hormones that control appetite and satiety (whether you feel full). 

The recommendation from the World Health Organisation is that we get 8 hours a night. Some recommendations suggest 7.5 - 9 hours.  And yet, we are sleeping less and less. 

I thoroughly recommend Matthew Walkers book ‘Why We Sleep’. You will be convinced. 

However, I do know that it’s easier said than done. Life is SO busy and many of us struggle with insomnia. 

You can take small steps towards better sleep though, gradually improving the length and quality of your sleep. Try some of these tips below. 

  • Switching of all technology an hour before bed should help your brain know that it’s time for bed and keep the tech out of the bedroom 
  • Avoid caffeine in the afternoon
  • Avoid alcohol late in the evening (it disrupts the quality of sleep)
  • Have a regular bedtime every night - weekends and weekdays 
  • Make sure the bedroom is dark and cool

A particular favourite of mine is the fact that the nap is a perfectly reasonable tool for health. I discovered their value when my son gave up sleeping regularly for a couple of years, and it's still one I use now. Just 20 minutes in the afternoon can help with some of the effects of sleep deprivation. 

This is one of the many areas of lifestyle we discuss on my Feel Good Forties course as sleep disruption has a huge impact on hormonal health, and yet can also be one of the effects of the perimenopause. 

Find out more here.

Photo by Benjamin Zanatta on Unsplash