Why Sleep Is Necessary for Good Health + Sleep Hacks
When people talk about being healthy they usually talk about diet and exercise, but what about sleep? How does sleep affect your health? And how do you get better sleep?
Better quality sleep has been linked to various health benefits. A lack of sleep, or sleeping at irregular hours, has been linked to a poor immune system. A good night’s sleep, if nothing else makes you feel good the next day — just ask any parent with a newborn what the opposite does to you. Sadly, many people struggle with sleep even when a newborn isn’t keeping them awake at night.
So let’s have a look at sleep and what it does to your health and how to improve the quality of your sleep.
Bad Sleep Negatively Affects Health
If you go to bed at 3am one night, 9pm the next night and 11pm the night after that, you’re effectively giving yourself jet lag and messing with your circadian rhythm (our inner biological clock). Disruption to the circadian rhythm has been linked to sleep problems, drub abuse, bipolar disorder and metabolic problems (weight gain and possibly diabetes). (1) (2)
As one study concluded: “Clinically, evidence suggests that if the circadian rhythm is experimentally disrupted in mice or men, metabolic syndrome and obesity, premature aging, diabetes, cardiac arrhythmias, immune deficiencies, hypertension [high blood pressure] and abnormal sleep cycles develop.” (3)
But that’s not all, various studies point to the fact that a lack of sleep leads to an increase in making mistakes. It can act as negatively on your judgement/cognitive functioning as drinking alcohol. (4) (5)
Alcohol Can Disrupt Your Circadian Rhythm
While a glass of wine may help make you sleepy, consuming a lot of alcohol can disrupt your circadian rhythm. Ironically, a disrupted circadian rhythm can then lead to alcohol misuse. The best way to prevent this is simply to stay away from large amounts of alcohol. (6)
Good Sleep Improves Memory and Brain Functioning
If you want to get better at problem solving, improve your academic performance and cognitive functioning general, as well as your memory, then a good night’s sleep is recommended. (7) (8) (9) (10)
A good night’s sleep also affects how well you perform physically — things like reaction time and speed in basketball players have shown to have correlation with sleep in studies. (11)
Turning Off the Lights
As light, both natural and artificial, impacts your circadian rhythm, it’s important to turn off the lights at night. If you have problems sleeping, try turning off all electronic devices and go about your business by candle light, or some other dim light source, for an hour before bedtime. You don’t want to strain your eyes, but by dimming your light sources, your body will start producing melatonin, which is a chemical needed for sleep.
Go to Bed at Regular Hours
As mentioned, if you keep changing the time of day when you go to bed, you mess with your circadian rhythm. Once the body knows when it’s time to go to bed and when it’s time to go to sleep, it falls into a pattern. It will often be a lot easier to fall asleep if you can do this.
Of course, you also need to get enough sleep. For adults that normally ranges between 6-9 hours, with most aiming for 7-8 hours per night.
I watched Baywatch (the movie) the other day and I found the movie as appalling as I found Zac Efron hot and it left me inspired to do two things: hit a tropical beach and work on my fitness regime. I remember, as a child, growing up in Sweden, I dreamed of the tropics constantly. It was just so exotic with long white beaches and a constant supply of sunshine and tropical fruits. So as an adult I headed for warmer climates. Turns out, it might be doing something for my sleep!
In one study they found that ingesting either pineapples, bananas, or oranges increased the production of melatonin, pineapple the most, oranges the least. While the study didn’t conclude if this led to better sleep, if you want to increase melatonin production naturally, eating a pineapple in the evening, or making yourself a tropical smoothie, isn’t a bad idea. (12)
I really can’t believe I read a medical study about tropical fruits and got sidetracked by thinking about Zac Efron, but there you have it — though I’m pretty certain he does nothing for your sleep!
Drink Tart Cherry Juice
It’s not just tropical fruits that can help increase melatonin — tart cherries can as well. One study found that drinking tart cherry juice from Montmorency cherries for seven days helped subjects falling asleep faster and increased sleep efficiency by 5-6%. (13)
Try Herbal Supplements
If you have any interest in herbal medicine, you probably know that there are herbs that reportedly either relaxes you and/or help you sleep. Recently science has been trying to figure out why. Herbs that have had success in various studies include: chamomile, valerian, lavender (though it may be the scent, not the tea), lemon balm, passion flower, magnolia bark and linden. Ashwagandha is also rumored to work, though I haven’t found studies about it. (14 (15) (16) (17) (18) (19) (20) (21)
If you use herbs to make herbal teas, or decide to buy a supplement, do look into potential side effects.
A hot shower and a cup of hot tea might just send you off to bed. When the body cools itself down, you often feel drowsy. Hence, having a hot bath, shower, or sauna before bed, or simply drinking a hot cup of tea, can both relax you and make you sleepy.
On the other hand, you want to make sure your bedroom is neither too hot, nor too cold for you to sleep through the night.
Most of us get tired if we’ve had a day filled of activities. If you spend a lot of time by a desk, or simply don’t get a lot of exercise, try exercising more. This can help make you feel tired in the evening.
Control Your Mind
It’s no secret that anxiety, depression, or simply stress, can leave you tossing and turning at night. If you are worried about something, or something’s on your mind, you might want to try meditation and/or an app with guided relaxation before bedtime. Studies have shown a link between mediation and improved sleep. (22)
There are actually several apps available that help with sleep. While I haven’t reviewed them, it can be well worth your time to look into them. Even on YouTube you’ll find guided meditations that can help relax you. A guided meditation is sometimes easier than meditating on your own, as your mind has something to follow.
If you feel you are more depressed, or anxious than you’d like to be, contact a therapist, or other healthcare professional.
There are many things you can do to help improve the quality and quantity of your sleep. Apart from the ones mentioned in this article, getting enough sunlight and eating a varied diet so you get all required vitamins, minerals and nutrients may also help your sleep. As sleep greatly affects our health, it’s important we take it seriously.