The Importance of Sleep

Getting enough quality sleep is as important as the food you eat and how much water you drink. When you lack sleep it is hard to concentrate or respond rapidly and your brain cannot form pathways to create new memories.

When you sleep, your body repairs itself by feeding the organs and muscles with Oxygen and nutrients from the blood. Sleep affects all the systems in the body from the brain, heart, and lungs to immune function, disease resistance and metabolic regulation. Poor quality sleep may cause disorders like high blood pressure, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, depression, and even obesity.

Everyone needs sleep, there are no exceptions but we all need a different amount of sleep to function. Some people can function on 5 hours and others need 8 or even 9 hours of sleep. It all depends on the quality of your sleep. Someone who sleeps solidly for 5 hours may feel more rested than someone who sleeps for 9 hours but wakes up intermittently.

There are 5 stages of sleep that we go through in a night:
  1. First we are awake, we lie down in bed and prepare to sleep.
  2. Just before we fall asleep we begin to drowse off and start day dreaming. The body starts to relax, respiration and heart rate slow down.
  3. We are still awake with bursts of brain activity just before falling into a deep sleep.
  4. In a deep sleep the body can begin to repair the muscles. The immune system also begins to fight diseases during this stage of sleep.
  5. The final stage of sleep is REM. This means rapid eye movement and it is considered the state of dreaming. The eyes move in all directions and the brain seems to be active like when we are awake.

These sleep cycles repeat themselves throughout the night not necessarily in the same order. Hopefully without going back to stage 1 and becoming completely awake in the middle of the night.

Body temperature is linked to the quality of your sleep. It is important to get enough sunlight during the day so your body stays warm. This gives it more energy to stay awake. People who don’t get enough light during the day might remain sleepy but using a bright light might help. Bright lights are also known to help with depression and moods.

Melatonin is the hormone in your body that helps you sleep. In the evening when it is dark the melatonin levels in your body rise preparing you for the night ahead.

To best regulate your hormones your body needs a regular rising time and sleeping time. It is best to stick close to it on the weekends so that you don’t disrupt the system.

Sleep / Wake system

A good sleep means that you have energy for the time you are awake during the day. If you don’t sleep well it is common not to have the to function properly during your wake hours. You might not exercise because you are feeling tired yet that is exactly what you need to do to improve the quality of your sleep. When you improve the quality of your sleep you feel more awake during the day and have more energy to exercise.  

The more demand you put on your awake system during the day the stronger you can make your sleep system at night.

If you don’t sleep at night, it is good to get a power nap of 20 - 45 minutes. Be careful not to sleep too much during the day or you will put your system in array. You will be missing important daylight hours which will affect the night’s sleep. It is important to maintain your wakeful state so that you can have a restful sleep at night.

Hydration and Sleep

If you're not drinking at least 8 cups of water a day, chances are you are creating a water deficit in your body.

Dehydration affects your blood. When you don’t have enough water in the blood it clumps together and can’t carry the nutrients to repair your body overnight.

Our digestive system also relies on being properly hydrated. The body digests while we sleep so if we don’t have enough water the body will spend more energy trying to digest affecting sleep quality. Eating before bed can also affect the quality of your sleep as you will have extra digesting to do during the night so keep your midnight snacks light.

Hydration also helps control your body temperature and remember your body temperature is the main clock which controls when and how you sleep!

Coffee puts pressure on your awake system. This weakens your sleep system. Everyone has a different tolerance to caffeine. Drinking Caffeine up to 6 hours before bed can affect your sleep. Your body will have trouble getting into a deep sleep. You might also wake up and find yourself back in stage 2.

Like caffeine Nicotine produces faster brain waves, the heart beats faster and you breathe faster which increases the amount of stress hormones in your body Thus smoking cigarettes has a negative effect on the quality of your sleep.

Alcohol will suppress the 3rd, 4th, and 5th stage of sleep. Alcohol also dehydrates your body. If you are dehydrated from alcohol the blood clumps and doesn’t to do its repair work and your quality of sleep will be impaired. Even small doses of it produce an un-restful sleep.

Some research also has brought to attention that the lack of vitamin B and folic acid can impair sleep. The brain uses calcium and magnesium to produce a calming chemical in the brain, lack of these will make it harder to sleep deeply. 

Always allow yourself to have a wind-down period before you go to bed. This is important time away from the screens before sleeping at least 30 minutes if not an hour.

This is not to be considered medical advice – please consult medical and sleep professionals for any sleep issues you may have. Knowing a bit may help improve the quality of your sleep.  

source – e-book by Kacper Postawski


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