Feeling tired? Not sleeping well? Busy through the day? Running on low battery or rushing from one thing to the next are worn as badges of honour in today’s world. This stereotype pervades our lifestyle and has a direct impact on our performance and recovery.
So why do we need sleep? Why does the average human spend one third of their entire life asleep?
Sleep serves as a restorative process for our bodies and minds.
Every day, as your brain goes about its normal neural activities, it accumulates metabolic waste. Too much accumulation of these waste products has been linked to such neurological disorders such as Alzheimer’s disease. Sleep plays a crucial role serving as the cleaner each night, flushing out toxins up to two times faster during sleep than during waking hours. So essentially, as we sleep, our brain is “taking out the trash”. The result? Restoration. As you wake up, a clear mind and refreshed to start our day.
Another purpose of sleep is memory consolidation. Over more than a century of research has established the fact that sleep benefits the retention of memory. Insufficient or fragmented sleep can hamper your ability to form both concrete memories (facts and figures) and emotional memories. Thus, sleep is crucial for that memory consolidation.
Finally, having consistent quality sleep is paramount for metabolic health. Defined as having ideal levels of blood sugar, triglycerides, high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol, blood pressure, and waist circumference, without using medications. These factors directly relate to a person’s risk for heart disease, diabetes, and stroke. Insufficient sleep or abnormal sleep cycles can lead to insulin insensitivity and metabolic syndrome, increasing your risk for these factors.
All of this to say, that better sleep is critical for your mental and physical health.
So how many hours of sleep do we need?
Generally speaking, experts agree that 95 percent of adults need 7 to 9 hours each night to function optimally. Most adults should be aiming for eight hours per night. Children, teenagers, and older adults typically need more.
To play to the long term game of recovery and restoration, we need to give ourselves permission to periodically switch off or disconnect – not just on the weekends.
What can we do to get a quality night’s rest?
Develop a “power down” ritual
Shut off computer screens, television, and phones an hour before sleep can be a big help. Perhaps read a book instead.
If you have kids at home, it could be helpful to develop a “power down” ritual with them to start the good habits early.
Use relaxation techniques
Techniques such as journaling, deep breathing exercises, meditation – all serve as outlets to reduce stress.
Get to bed around the same time each night so that your body can adapt to good sleep habits.
If you can’t go without your morning cup of coffee, then a good rule-of-thumb to keep in mind is “no coffee after noon”. This gives caffeine enough time to wear off before bed time.
Use the bedroom for sleep and sex only. This is ideal to promote good sleep habits. Keep the bedroom cool also, where the ideal temperature for best sleep is between 18 to 21 degrees Celsius.
The caveat is to avoid intense exercise two to three hours before bedtime as the mental and physical stimulation can leave your nervous system feeling wired. However, low-impact exercise (such as Pilates, some forms of Yoga especially Yin Yoga) will make it easier for your brain and body to power down at night as it relaxes the muscles, releasing muscle tension from the work day.