The importance of sleep
Sleep is the body's natural healer! Your ability to recover, whether it be from a workout or an irritating chest cold highly depends on the quality of your sleep.
You spend about one third of your life asleep, which may seem like a waste of precious time. “I can sleep when I’m dead!” you might exclaim, although, despite your thoughts of boycotting sleep as an institution… sleeping is a pivotal part of your day.
As you depart into dreamland, you become unaware of the world around you, and despite your general ignorance, there is a lot going on underneath the surface...
What happens when you're asleep
While you’re asleep, your body’s batteries are charging and your brain is organizing and processing what you have learned throughout the day with the aim to store all the important information for the future.
While your brain is working on overdrive, coding and assembling important information like the presentation you’ve prepared for work or your new bike route home, your physiological activity drops. Your blood pressure, heart rate and breathing slows down, bringing your body temperature down with it. It’s also a time of the day when your stress hormone decreases as well, giving you a break from the stress of the day.
Pro tip: This is why cramming for an exam the night before isn’t recommended. First of all, your brain functions better with enough quality sleep, but more than that, sleep is essential in the process of your brain’s memory storage!
Your immune system starts working harder while your body’s natural building and growth hormones increase. In other words, sleep is an important time for your body’s natural reconstruction. Sleep helps fills you with the energy you need to face the day and restores what has become sore or damaged, both in body tissues and the central nervous system.
How to get better sleep
Most of us need about 7 - 9 hours of sleep per night. In general, it takes about 30-45 minutes to fall asleep after you’ve turned out the lights. A good night’s sleep will have very few and short awakenings and feel deep and restful.
Sleep consistency is one of the most important aspects sleep. If you’re waking up several times each night and having restless sleeps several nights per week, you’re probably not getting enough quality sleep. Don’t worry though, there are things you can do to improve your sleep and reap the benefits:
- Physical Activity: Going for a walk or doing a short workout can help burn off some of the nervous energy you may have, prepping your mind and body for a restful night.
- Nap: A short nap during the day can fend off over-exhaustion and prevent you from using stimulants like caffeine that may keep you awake in the night.
- Self-care: Practising breathing exercises to ward off anxiety and creating a relaxing bedtime routine will help you sleep better.
- Eat well: Avoiding too much sugar and eating a balanced diet will improve your sleep, and be sure not to go to bed hungry.
- Sunlight: Getting the right amount of sunlight and vitamin D during the day has proven to help you sleep better.
What if I’m not sleeping well?
Yes, insomnia and poor sleep can have negative side effects that may reduce your quality of life and increase the risk of disease. In extreme cases, fatigue can cause a higher risk of dangerous accidents.
But, nightmares induced from knowing the side effects of bad sleep aren’t going to help you fall asleep any faster...So, here’s the good news; your body is impressively adaptable and can make up for a bad night’s sleep every now and then. According to some sleep studies, the body can actually compensate for bad sleep by sleeping even deeper the next night.
So, help your body do what it does best by incorporating strategies for good sleep into your daily habits. After all, your body has the amazing natural ability to heal itself, so let it!