Sleep is essential for human survival and good sleep is necessary to be able to enjoy good physical health and mental health. Just about every system and process in our body is impacted by sleep, and whilst a single poor night of sleep can affect our energy levels, brain function and mood, longer-term impacts of chronic poor sleep will increase the risk of infection, depression, metabolic disease and ultimately shorten our life expectancy. This is all down to the complex, and essential processes that take place during sleep, ranging from cell repair and immune system optimisation to emotional regulation and even forming memories.
When you sleep your body cycles through 4 different stages. Not all sleep cycles are the same length, but on average they last about 90 minutes each. The typical adult, who is getting the recommended 7-9 hours, will go through four to six full sleep cycles each night.
Many people who have suffered with insomnia will be aware of the vicious cycle that can occur when the anxiety of ‘not being able to sleep’ can impact the ability to sleep even further - so called ‘sleep anxiety’. Insomnia can mean problems getting off to sleep, problems staying asleep, or a combination of the two. It can be frustrating, distressing and ultimately lead to serious physical and mental health issues.
Whilst we able to tolerate short periods of poor sleep, and even longer periods at certain stages in life – after having a baby for example, chronic sleep deprivation throughout our lives is bad news. It can increase the risk of weakened immune system, high blood pressure, obesity, type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and stroke. Sleep is extremely important for brain function and that includes our mental health, it is therefore very closely linked to depression, anxiety, and other mental health conditions. It also impacts our social lives too, from relationships and productivity to sex drive and alcohol use.
If poor sleep is affecting a person’s health, it is important to address it. Fixing the issue is not as simple as just taking sleeping tablets, because whilst hypnotic medication may get you unconscious and keep you unconscious, you don’t necessarily get the same benefits as moving naturally through the various stages of sleep. People should be aware that fixing a sleep issue can take some time, some work and some effort, but it is worth putting in the graft. Sleep hygiene measures and a consistent bedtime routine are the first measures to address. If you have consistent activities that you do immediately before bed, such as reading, having a bath, or a hot milky drink, you can train the brain to associate these activities with sleep, and this effectively is training the brain to be better at sleeping. A special form for talking therapy called CBTi can be helpful, and there is an app available to download called CBT-I coach and promising research is currently looking at shorter forms of interventional therapy that can help.
A consistent sleep schedule helps to maintain the body’s internal clock, or circadian rhythm. So whilst it’s tempting to stay up late and lie in at the weekends, a concept known as ‘social jetlag’ it’s not great for your sleep quality and it’s not great for your health. Heart rate, blood pressure, and other cardiovascular functions follow circadian patterns, so altering the sleep schedule in this way can have detrimental effects. So if work and life allows, being consistent with sleep and wake times can be hugely beneficial.
For more information on natural sleep remedies to help relax your body and mind for a good night’s sleep, visit here