Why you NEED to prioritise sleep
We often romanticise about how busy our lifestyles are. A takeaway coffee has become the perfect symbol for this… far too busy to sit down, be present and enjoy a coffee. If you do have time to sit down and enjoy it chances are you’ll get your laptop out so it at least makes it look like you’re too busy to stop and sit down for a coffee. Not to mention the fact that most of us feel we need coffee to get through the day. How many people drink several cups a day because they truly love the taste? With all that in mind who on earth has time to get enough time to prioritise sleep? We can just fix it with another take away coffee right? Well no, but what is the real cost of our poor sleep habits?
It’s easy to argue that for most people sleep is one of the most undervalued pillars of health. From our general health to things like cognitive function and productivity, as well as longevity, are all hugely influenced by how well we are sleeping. Having proper sleep can actually help you lose weight, perform better at work, make you live longer, reduce your risk of getting sick and improve your creativity.. just to name a few benefits. So why the heck wouldn’t we put more importance on it? Here's exactly why we should be…
Lets go through a few obvious benefits and some evidence.
Manage a healthy weight and appetite
Improve cognitive function, memory and creativity
Reduce the risk of almost all major diseases
Regulating weight and appetite
Have you ever noticed your ability to make better choices reduces after a single night of poor sleep? That donut or meal at McDonald’s that you could usually talk yourself out of for obvious health reasons becomes far easier to give in to when you’re tired. This happens for all decisions on reduced sleep and theres obvious science behind this. https://www.nature.com/articles/ejcn2016201
Sleep is a powerful regulator of our appetites, energy use, and weight control. Many of the hormones responsible for these things are regulated when we sleep. That means if you are working hard to control your weight, appetite or energy use and you aren’t getting enough quality sleep, then right from the beginning you’re putting yourself at an extreme handicap to control and manage these things. Research shows that after one night of bad sleep we consume almost 300-500 extra calories the following day AND it had a large effect on increasing your insulin sensitivity. Not only do these increased calories ultimately affect our metabolic health but one night of bad sleep is even enough to place us in a pre-diabetic state for the next day. If you’re working hard to fight food cravings, give yourself a helping hand, prioritise your sleep.
Reduce the risk of almost all major diseases
So not only do these effects contribute to your ability to both control and manage weight, longer term sleep deprivation also has major effects on disease related to metabolic diseases such diabetes.
Improving cognitive function, memory and creativity
Yes, sleep may also make you smarter. Studies show that quality sleep improves our overall cognitive function and helps with memory consolidation / improved learning as well as improved creative problem solving. It’s not entirely known exactly what happens during sleep to do this, but experts suspect that when we sleep we strengthen the pathways of brain cells needed to perform such tasks. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17085038
Improving immune function
Yes, we are far more likely to get sick if we’re not getting enough quality sleep. Not only are we more likely to catch those cold and flu’s, we are far more likely to take longer to recover when we do get sick as well. Infection-fighting antibodies and cells are decreased during periods when we aren’t getting enough sleep, reducing our ability to fight infection and inflammation. When we are asleep we also release proteins called cytokines. Types of cytokines need to be increased when we are sick or fighting an infection. You guessed it, when we aren’t getting enough sleep we also decrease the production of cytokines. Simply we need sleep to fight all infections and disease.
Overall long-term lack of sleep also increased risk of all major health problems including diabetes, obesity and cardiovascular disease.
So that’s some of the science as to why you need to prioritise sleep, here’s some pointers to help improve your sleeping patterns and make sure you’re making the most of your time in bed.
Tips for Improving the Quality of your sleep
Get outdoors, especially in the morning - morning sunlight helps you sleep better at night https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2290997/ I've typically been a very poor sleeper and find it very difficult to wind down - here are my top tips that are not only supported by huge amounts of research and recommended by numerous experts but tips that I myself have found incredibly useful. Tips for getting for getting better sleep
Get up early and get yourself outside - our daily rhythms and in order to sleep at night these are hugely important and help set your circadian rhythm. This can have huge health benefits and vastly improve your sleep cycle. Just by going outside and setting your rhythm early in the morning. It's not only what we do before we go to bed, this is possibly the most useful tip anyone can do.
Cut the coffee after lunch time - Do you really need that much caffeine to function? Avoid caffeine after lunch if possible. If you "need" it to function, chances are you aren't getting enough sleep to begin with and this process is not helping your cycle - plus you'll probably save yourself a lot of money in the meantime.
Become a reader before bed - I haven't personally seen or searched for evidence on this one but know how well it works for me. If you're interested I am certain there would be some research on it. Personally I find it a great way to wind down and I feel much more tired and ready for sleep when I read a chapter before going to sleep.
Get regular! - we get our most beneficial sleep a few hours after the sun goes down - when our body is primed for sleep and naturally when we produce the most melatonin and have the deepest sleep between 10pm-2am. Maximise this! In some ways the quality of your sleep can be far more important than the number of hours you're actually spending in bed.
Cut the screen time before bed. Blue light from screens including our phones, computers and TVs have been clinically proven to suppress the amount of melatonin we produce - thus can have a huge impact on our sleep quality, even if you're getting to sleep easily it doesn't mean your sleep quality is great. The longer we spend looking at screens before bed, the longer our melatonin is suppressed for. Set yourself a screen curfew 90 minutes before bed is possible, if that's too much start with minimum of 30 minutes. If you are unable to do so, think about the next best option and getting some blue light filter glasses or turn of blue light filters on your device has the blue light filter switched. Personally my phone switches this automatically from 8pm onward. Not only does it reduce the blue light it makes me more conscious that its now after 8 and I should avoid looking at my screen.
Exercise! And at the right time - research shows that the most effective time to exercise to improve sleep in actually first thing in the morning. If you don't have time to workout at this time try going for a brisk walk, doing some short fast HIT workout at home - whatever you can fit it. If you can do it outside which combines with one of the previous points, even better.
Join the dark side
Improve your diet
Start a regular meditation practice
Don't eat just before bed
Make your bedroom a “Sleep Oasis” - Keep your bedroom clean and tidy, avoid doing other things in bed, especially working on computers or sitting on your phone before bed. Your bed should be for two things only, sleep and sex. Don’t sleep with your phone. If you must keep it in the room put it on the other side of the room far away from your bedside. For me I charge it at the end of my bed and have a no phone in bed rule.
Wind down in a relaxing bath or shower