When considering overall health and small incremental changes that can have a big impact, sleep is one of the most powerful and yet one of the most simple to implement. 

Sleep has been shown to restore, repair and recuperate virtually every part of the body. It is probably one of the most important parts of well-being, physically, mentally and emotionally. 

Yet for all its benefits it is the most underrated, it has almost become a medal of honour to be able to go without sleep. Yet a lack of sleep, less than 6 hours a night, has been linked to weakening our immune system, increasing the risk of cancer, cardiovascular and heart disease, developing Alzheimers, diabetes, depression, anxiety, and even weight gain.

To put sleep into context:-

On the 14th October 2012, Felix Baumgartner, made the Guinness book of records by climbing to the outer edges of the earth’s stratosphere in a helium balloon and jumped in a pressurised suit plunging 128,000 ft at a speed of 833mph, the first human to break the sound barrier, I hasten to add that since then Alan Eustace a Google executive has since broken the record at 135,000 ft. 

Yet the Guinness book of records have removed the record for the longest period without sleep as it’s just too dangerous! 

Sleep helps our brain and memory function…

If you can imagine your brain as a super complex computer. During the day we are constantly receiving data input and referring to information, from our hard drive, (our memory called the Hippocampus) dumping it all on our cache memory for easy recollection. 

Sleep takes all those random pieces of  information, all those thousands of bits of data and collates, consolidates and rationalises them; it even connects them with other relatable information; backing it all up safely on your hard drive during sleep. 

“That’s why they say if you have a problem, sleep on it”, as during sleep your brain is sorting, rationalising and looking for solutions. Many scientists have had eureka moments waking from a good nights sleep. Sleep deprivation substantially reduces this function and is suggested to contribute to cognitive decline, ageing and Alzheimers. 

Sleep helps our hearts… 

A Natural study of 1.6b people over 70 countries known as “daylight saving time” where clocks spring forward in spring and we lose this valuable hour showed there is a rise of 24% in heart attacks. Autumn “fall back” sees a 21% reduction in heart attacks. Same profile for traffic accidents and suicide. 

Sleep helps our Immune system… 

We have natural killer cells, the SAS of the immune system. They identify dangerous cells and eliminate them like cancer tumours. We need these special agents. A study restricting sleep to 4 hours resulted in a 70% drop in natural killer cell activity, potentially causing increased risks of some cancers. 

Sleep promotes hormones… 

Hormones support many functions in the body including the restoration of our cells, tissue and muscles.  They can also balance our appetites by helping to regulate levels of the hormones ghrelin and leptin, which play a role in our feeling hungry and feeling full.  When we are sleep deprived, we may feel the need to eat more, which can obviously lead to weight gain.

The one-third of our lives that we spend sleeping is far from being “unproductive”.  It plays a direct role in how full, energetic and successful the other two-thirds of our lives can be.

A helpful guide is to have a routine. Going to bed and particularly getting up at the same time will help support good sleep. This is because we have an automatic internal clock, which supports our Circadian rhythm, helping us naturally wake and sleep.

Environment is also important. Having a comfortable bedroom, with no noise or light and a cool temperature (around 18 degrees) will support restful sleep.

Avoid technology. Keep TVs and computers in other rooms, and avoid using your phone within an hour of going to bed. These screens emit light that can suppress melatonin, a hormone that helps regulate sleep patterns.

Get active. Exercise during the day can greatly assist sleep, although not too close to bedtime as this can make it less easy to sleep

Consider your diet. Try to avoid caffeine in the afternoon and evening and less spicy or sugary foods. In addition, avoid, drinking alcohol before bedtime as although it might help you fall asleep initially, it is likely to disrupt you sleep pattern through the night.

The below are helpful tips to help support sleep and easy to remember…

10, 3, 2, 1, 0

  • 10 - the hours prior to sleep with no caffeine (after mid-day).
  • 3 - the hours prior to sleep, to try not to eat or drink anything other than water.
  • 2 - the hours prior to sleep, try not to engage in work or too much mental stimulation, like work emails or watching Question Time!
  • 1 - the hour before to try not to expose yourself to screens.
  • 0 - the amount of light in the room you sleep in and the number of times to hit the snooze button, as one of the most useful tips is to try to wake at the same time every day.

Sleep well!

More information

Recommended reading: Why We sleep - Matt Walker
You Tube: Matt Walker - Sleep is your power