Sleep quality and quantity issues are becoming increasingly common in the modern western world. On top of that, we humans are the only known animal being consciously cutting down sleep hours for means of productivity, sociality, but also involuntarily because of increased environmental lighting and the introduction of new communication technologies.
Why are sleep quality and quantity so important?
Healthy sleep is necessary to achieve both mental and physical well-being, with huge repercussions on your productivity, quality of life and eating habits.
Sleep is a key factor for active people too, willing to maximise their recovery processes after a strenuous exercise session.
How do you know if there’s room for improvement? Well, if you have at least ONE of the following, there is:
· You sleep less than 7 hours a day;
· It takes you more than 30 minutes to fall asleep;
· You wake up in the middle of the night, at least once (to go to the bathroom or because of bad dreams, or other);
· You wake up, but still feel lethargic, unproductive, confused throughout the day;
In this brief guide, you’ll learn how your daily behaviour and activities can affect your sleep, what consequences this brings to your health, as well as how to set up a pleasant bedroom environment. Enjoy!
“Sleep in not an optional lifestyle luxury, but rather a non-negotiable biological necessity” Matt Walker
What are the consequences of disrupted sleeping habits?
Sleep “restriction”, “debt” or “deprivation” are some of the most used terms regarding the quantity of someone’s total sleep when curtailed because of voluntary or involuntary reasons.
Starting from cognition, sleep is essential for memory both before – to be ready to absorb as much information as possible – and after – to hold on to it – memory recall. Learning is a process that involves many structures, but the Hippocampus in particular. In sleep-deprived individuals the brain activity, specifically, that of the Hippocampus, is greatly suppressed when compared to well-rested populations.
On the topic of ageing, sleep deterioration is a key feature that signals physiological decline, especially when looking at deep sleep quality and duration. You could almost say that the worsening of age-related sleep architecture is a precursor of cognitive and learning skills weakening, both strongly associated with the onset of dementia and Alzheimer’s Disease.
It’s not just brain and mind, by the way: the whole body doesn’t respond very well too! Experimental data converge to indicate that inadequate sleep duration poses a substantial hazard for cardiovascular morbidity and mortality, including hypertension, coronary heart disease, and stroke.
Unfortunately, many metabolisms and endocrine networks are disrupted as well. Glucose homeostasis is greatly hindered, with a clear decline in Insulin sensitivity, caused by an increase in evening cortisol, sympathetic nervous system activation, and production of pro-inflammatory molecules like Interleukin-6 and TNF-α. All this can bring impaired fasting glycemia, impaired postprandial glucose tolerance, or both. The most astonishing paper we read showed that it takes just a week of 5-hours sleep nights to go from normal glucose levels to pre-diabetic-like! Just to mention, also thyroid function is at risk since thyrotropin concentration decreases. Short sleep hours pose a great risk for also weight gain and incident overweight/obesity.
From an Immunological standpoint, sleep restriction of a few hours was seen to decrease Natural-Killer cells by around 70%. These are one of our most powerful weapons against unwanted elements in our body, comprising both pathogens and cancerous cells.
Clearly, all this has huge consequences on almost the totality of the aspects correlated to wellness. Following are some suggestions to help improve your sleep in many ways.
1. Be consistent with your schedule
We, humans, are creatures of habits. In this case, going to bed and waking up always at the same time gives your body some reference for when to be active and when to calm down.
Other than that, adjunctive fixed habits close to bedtime can aid you in becoming as precise as clockwork:
· Put on your night apparel at least 30 minutes before going to bed;
· Switch off any electronic device at least 30-60 minutes before going to bed; try to read a book, meditate, stretch, pace breathe instead;
· Turn off any unnecessary artificial light or dim them a bit;
· Try not to drink too much in the hours preceding bedtime (in order to avoid waking up to go to the bathroom);
2. Introduce some healthy daily habits
While the above suggestions take place predominantly close to bedtime, there are a lot of other things you can try to increase the quality and quantity of your sleep.
As soon as you wake up, try to get as much sunlight exposure as possible, to kickstart your Circadian Rhythm (inner biological clock). At this point, you can either exercise in a fasted state or later, they have different consequences but at the end of the day, it is being active that counts the most.
Some lifestyle changes you might consider are to quit smoking and decrease your alcohol consumption (particularly later in the day), as they both act as Central Nervous System stimulants and, on the same page, caffeinated products after 5-6 in the afternoon (caffeine excretion can take up to 5-6 hours).
Lastly, consider not to lay in bed at all while you’re accomplishing your tasks and carrying out your work. As the saying goes: “stay in bed just for sex and sleep”.
3. Create your perfect bedroom environment
The atmosphere you create can greatly influence your sleep quality, both at the beginning and during the night. Other than finding the right pillow and mattress for your needs, there are many elements to consider:
· Light should always be blocked, as it can interrupt your sleep. If that’s the case, consider buying some heavy curtains or an eye mask.
· Noise can also wake you up, so if you live in a busy neighbourhood or you have a snoring partner, we recommend the purchase of some earplugs.
· Room temperature needs to be lower than normal (around 18° C) because our body lowers its core temperature in the evening and during sleep, and feeling hot can easily wake you up.
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