The Importance of Sleep

Woman Sleeping

“Sleep is the elixir of life. It is the most widely available and democratic powerful healthcare system I could ever possibly imagine.” – Matthew Walker

It is well-established that sleep is important. However, rocking up to work (or in more recent times, rolling out of bed and straight into your first zoom call), bleary-eyed and exhausted seems to happen far too frequently. 

Stimulants, including coffee and energy drinks, alarm clocks, mobile phones, commutes, jobs and snoring partners are among the many obstacles between you and a good night sleep.

As a generation, we seem to have accepted that due to our hectic lifestyles, we don’t have the time to get a full night sleep each night and simply learn to make do. 

We at FFF are here to give you the A to Zzz’s of sleep and highlight just how important it is to ensure you have a soothing slumber.

What is sleep?

The oxford dictionary defines sleep as – “a condition of body and mind which typically recurs for several hours every night, in which the nervous system is inactive, the eyes closed, the postural muscles relaxed, and consciousness practically suspended”.

It can be broken up into 5 phases – each stage becoming progressively deeper:

  • Stage 1: when we first drift off or doze, we go into non-rapid eye movement sleep (NREM). The body has not yet fully relaxed and you can be woken easily during this stage. The body and brain activities start to slow with periods of brief movements (twitches).
  • Stage 2: during this stage, the body enters a more subdued state including a drop in temperature, relaxed muscles, and slowed breathing and heart rate.
  • Stages 3 and 4: also known as slow wave sleep and this provides the most restorative sleep as our bodies produce growth hormones, regulate immune system function, and develop and repair muscle tissue during these phases.
  • Stage 5: we then move into REM sleep, generally around 90 minutes after going to sleep. This phase is said to be important for both mental and emotional development and is also said to be the stage in which we experience the most vivid dreams.

It is said that each sleep cycle lasts around an hour and a half and to wake up feeling rested, we are required to experience all of the aforementioned stages.

Sleep requirements vary from person to person, but adults should aim for between 7-9 hours each night. 

Why do we need it?

According to the National Sleep Foundation, sleep is crucial for optimal health and well-being. 

It is needed for several reasons, namely to allow your body to unwind physically and recover from the day’s activities, but also to give your heart and cardiovascular system the opportunity to relax. It is also curative for your brain and enables the body to heal damaged cells.

Further, research has found that improving sleep quality may have positive outcomes on daily mood(3).

What are the signs you’re not getting enough sleep?

One of the clear signs of not getting enough sleep is the all too familiar feeling or drowsiness. Many start to feel irritable, snapping at friends and colleagues over the smallest of things. Others even report feelings of depression when lack of sleep is endured over a longer period of time.

Failing to get a restful night of sleep can lead to a reduction in productivity at work, as we may find it increasingly tricky to take in new information, remember things or exercise effective decision making.

What are the consequences of lack of sleep?

A vast amount of research has been undertaken considering the relationship between sleep and overall health. Sleep deprivation causes interference with many of the body’s biological processes and systems – which all, in turn, will have a negative effect on your health. 

Findings over the years have inferred that a lack of sleep could:

  • impact immune function and inflammation – thought to detrimentally affect host defence mechanisms and heighten susceptibility to pathogens (disease-causing microorganisms) (4) and increased inflammation(5).
  • be attributed to weight gain –  suggested that the number of hours sleep you get each night may influence body weight and metabolism, largely linked to appetite hormones (6).
  • be linked to increased risk of heart disease – Daghlas et al., 2019 found that participants in their study sleeping less than 6 hours each night had a 20% higher risk of a heart attack.

Science aside, you’re far less likely to exercise or spend time cooking healthy meals (cue FFF) when you’re tired are you?!

How can you improve your sleep?

I know for some it may be easier said than done, but a few small tweaks could be the difference between sleepless nights or a dreamy doze. Give these a go!

  • Avoid caffeine and alcohol in the evening.
  • Wind down and relax – have a bedtime routine each evening e.g. prepare yourself for the following day, have a warm bath or read.
  • Avoid using your phone or laptop right before going to bed. If you find it hard to be apart from your phone, switch it over to night mode to avoid the harsh light.
  • Try not to use your bedroom as a workspace, (that includes checking your emails), as your body will begin to associate your bedroom with work, making it harder to unwind.
  • Assess your bedroom setup – ensure it isn’t too hot, too cold, too noisy or too bright and make sure you have a comfortable bed. Investing in a good quality mattress is priceless in the long run!
  • Avoid snoozing your alarm in the morning – set it for 15 minutes later but get up straight away.
  • Track your energy levels using our FFF App – this could help you identify patterns and behaviours which may need adjusting.

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Getting a decent night sleep each night should be high on your priority list. It may not be feasible to get 8 hours every night, but aim to get into a better routine and allow yourself time to relax and unwind – you’ll feel the benefits in no time!

FFF Georgia Nutritionist

References

  1. Walker, M. (2018). Why we sleep. [London]: Penguin.
  2. Oxfordify.com. 2021. Oxford Dictionary – Sleep. [online] Available at: <https://www.oxfordify.com/meaning/sleep> [Accessed 19 March 2021].
  3. Triantafillou, S., Saeb, S., Lattie, E., Mohr, D. and Kording, K., 2019. Relationship Between Sleep Quality and Mood: Ecological Momentary Assessment Study. JMIR Mental Health, 6(3), p.e12613.
  4. Benca, R. M., & Quintas, J. (1997). Sleep and host defenses: a review. Sleep, 20, pp.1027–1037.
  5. Ali, T., Madhoun, M., Orr, W. and Rubin, D. (2013). Assessment of the Relationship Between Quality of Sleep and Disease Activity in Inflammatory Bowel Disease Patients. Inflammatory Bowel Diseases, 19(11), pp.2440-2443.
  6. Taheri, S., Lin, L., Austin, D., Young, T. and Mignot, E. (2004). Short Sleep Duration Is Associated with Reduced Leptin, Elevated Ghrelin, and Increased Body Mass Index. PLoS Medicine, 1(3), pp.62.
  7. Daghlas, I., Dashti, H., Lane, J., Aragam, K., Rutter, M., Saxena, R. and Vetter, C., 2019. Sleep Duration and Myocardial Infarction. Journal of the American College of Cardiology, 74(10), pp.1304-1314.

Fresh Fitness Food provides personalised meals plans delivered straight to your door, ensuring not only that you have the nutrients you need to manage your stress levels, but also that you have the time usually spent shopping, cooking and washing up, to engage in your favourite stress reducing activity. To discuss which nutrition plan is right for you, book a call with our in-house nutrition team here.

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Georgia Head

Published by Georgia Head

In her teenage years, a love of food and rowing led Georgia into this field as she wanted to know how to optimise performance through nutrition. With a BSc in Nutrition and an MSc in Sports and Exercise Nutrition, she has the skill set to help you track towards your goals and maximise your potential.

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