The Importance of Sleep

Turning up to work bleary-eyed and exhausted seems to have become a frequent occurrence in our daily lives. Many people find themselves in an endless cycle of snoozing the alarm, relying on coffee and counting down the minutes until bedtime each day.

According to the National Sleep foundation, sleep is crucial for optimal health and well-being. That being said, many of us seem to be guilty of depriving ourselves week in and week out until our bodies are both physically and mentally exhausted.

Stimulants, including coffee and energy drinks, alarm clocks, mobile phones, Netflix, stress, and your snoring partners are among the obstacles between you and a good night’s’ sleep.

As a generation, we seem to have accepted that due to our fast-paced, hectic lifestyles, we don’t have the time to get a full night sleep each night and so we simply learn to ‘make do’. This does not have to be the case!

We‘re 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?

For many, this is simply the hours between collapsing in an exhausted heap on our beds until our alarms rudely interrupt our slumber hours later.

However, 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”.

Why do we need it?

Sleep is required 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. Sleep is also curative for your brain and enables the body to heal damaged cells.

How much should we get?

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

It is well-documented that in the UK, many of us fail to reach the advised amount. In 2016, it was reported that the average Briton got just under 7 hours sleep each night and in 2017, this figure dropped to just over 6 hours.

What are the consequences of lack of sleep?

One of the main downfalls of not getting enough sleep is feeling drowsy. It is common for those lacking in sleep to report feeling irritable, less focussed, and even depressed 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, activate our memories or exercise effective decision making.

Why is sleep so important?

+ Immune function and inflammation

A growing body of research supports the link between sleep, immune function and inflammation.

Sleep is said to have a recuperative role on immune processes. Lack of sleep and sleep loss are thought to detrimentally affect host defence mechanisms and heighten susceptibility to pathogens (disease-causing microorganisms), and increased inflammation (Benca & Quintas, 1997 and Madhoun et al., 2013).

Sleep deprivation causes interferences with many of the body’s biological processes and systems which will in turn will have a negative effect on your health.

+ Appetite control and weight gain

Poor sleep has been attributed to weight gain. It has been suggested that the number of hours sleep you get each night may influence body weight and metabolism.

Taheri et al., (2004) studied American adults between the ages of 30-60 years old, and found participants with short sleep had reduced leptin levels and increased ghrelin levels. Leptin is the appetite hormone that signals the feeling of fullness, whilst ghrelin signals the feeling of hunger. The observed changes in hormone levels are likely to increase appetite, potentially providing an explanation for the weight gain observed in the participants.

Science aside you’re far less likely to drag yourself to the gym or spend time cooking healthy meals (…cue FFF) when you’re tired are you?

Top tips for improving sleep

Getting a decent night sleep each night should be up there with your goals to eat more healthily and increase your exercise frequency. 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.

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 them 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.

To conclude, sleep is pretty damn important for our overall health and well-being. We should aim to take the necessary steps to get a few more hours of shut-eye or perhaps start by improving our current sleep quality. This will put a spring in your step and ensure you’re ready to face the day ahead. You’ll feel the benefits in no time!

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.

Benca, R. M., & Quintas, J. (1997). Sleep and host defenses: a review. Sleep, 20, pp.1027–1037.

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.