Sleep. It is refreshing, comforting and essential for our survival. Photo - Sleeping baby

Why sleep is so important:

Research has shown that sleep is beneficial for your:

  • immune function
  • metabolism and weight control
  • memory and learning
  • safety (whilst working and driving
  • mood and
  • preventing serious illness & disease

Sleep plays an important role in brain development in infants and children. It is believed that when you sleep, there are structural and organisational changes taking place in your brain. This is known as ‘brain plasticity’. Sleep (and sometimes the lack of sleep) affects your ability to learn and perform a variety of tasks.  When you sleep you are processing the day’s events and restoring your energy levels.

How much sleep do you need?

Your sleep requirements will vary according to your age and genetics. Age and genetics may determine how long you sleep for, when you want to go to bed and wake up and how deeply you are able to sleep.  However, shift work and jet lag can alter your body’s normal sleep rhythms or biological clock.

For most adults, 7 to 8 hours a night is ideal, however, some people may only need 5 hours and others may need as many as 10 hours of sleep per night.

What happens if you don’t get enough sleep?

Sleep deprivation can lead to agitation, moodiness, grumpiness, irritability, waking up unrefreshed, poor short-term memory, poor concentration or short attention span. Not getting enough sleep can result in a ‘sleep debt’ that must be repaid. Chronic sleep loss may lead to increased risk of obesity, diabetes and cardiovascular disease.

Tips for a Good Night’s sleep:

  • Maintain a regular sleeping schedule: keep a regular bedtime and wake time, even on the weekends to regulate your ‘circadian rhythm’
  • Relax before bed: create a regular bedtime routine with activities that helps you to relax. These may include a warm bath, reading or dimming the lights.
  • Healthy eating & drinking habits: avoid eating too much close to bedtime, avoid caffeine close to bedtime (within 6-8 hours of going to bed) and avoid alcohol close to bedtime.
  • Exercise regularly: a regular exercise program will help you sleep soundly. Avoid exercising too close to bedtime as a higher body temperature may prevent you from falling asleep.
  • Create a good sleep environment: a room that is cool, dark, quite and allows natural light (where possible) to wake you in the morning. A comfortable mattress and pillow will also help create a supportive sleep environment.
  • Sleeping position: your osteopath at Body of Life Health Centre will be able to give you advice on the best sleeping position for you to ensure your body receives the rest it needs.
  • Consult your doctor if you have ongoing sleep disturbances: there may be an underlying cause for your sleep patterns and a proper diagnosis may be important to ensure you receive the best advice and treatment. You may need a referral to a sleep specialist.

(Adapted from  “When you Can’t Sleep: the ABCs of ZZZs by the National Sleep Foundation)

Article written by Dr Melanie Woollam.

Sources include: Division of Sleep Medicine at Harvard Medical School, 2007, National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke Website and National Sleep Foundation  Website