Help yourself sleep better
By now we should all know that sleep is the most important thing in our lives that all other aspects depend on, yet we know that at least a third of the UK adults struggle to have a good night’s sleep on a weekly basis.
So, what is happening when we sleep?
Our brains work very hard, thinking, learning, inventing, and processing all kinds of information every moment of our time awake. To organise it all in our memory we need to “sleep on it”. It was discovered that when we sleep, our brain cells have an increased activity linked to specific brain waves that are responsible for how we form memories.
Melatonin is not the only hormone that gets released at night. When we fall asleep, our brains also produce other hormones that help us repair our bodies and feel refreshed in the mornings.
Illustration taken from theconversation.com
If you ever tried to shape your body with exercise, you would know that it is not the time you spend exercising, it is the rest you are taking afterwards that is doing the job. Muscle growth and repair happen during sleep when hormones are released. Without adequate sleep, muscle gain and physical performance are greatly diminished.
When you work your body, you break complex chains of proteins within the muscle tissue. When you rest, your body sends chemicals to those damaged areas. These chemicals remove damaged cells and tissue and begin the process of repair and replacement. At the same time, your body produces growth factors for new muscle fibre formation and to replace damaged proteins. With regular training, this constant stress creates adaptation in muscles and makes them grow in size.
Immune response to illness
During sleep, your immune system releases cytokines – small proteins that help your body fight inflammation. When you’re ill or injured, a good night’s sleep can make you feel significantly better the next day.
Let’s assume you are an average healthy individual that suddenly started experiencing poor sleep. What will happen to you?
Everyone has trouble sleeping at some point, and if a couple of sleepless nights are followed by nights of good sleep routine, you probably won’t feel much except for maybe feeling tired or having a headache. It is a regular lack of sleep that will cause serious damage to your body and mind.
Your Central Nervous System is at work when you sleep. The more time your brain spends communicating between neurons at night, the more refreshed you feel in the morning. Insomnia cuts that time off, which results in your mind feeling exhausted in the morning. Lack of sleep is responsible for mood swings, irritability, impulsive behaviour, and in long-term cases, anxiety and depression.
Insomnia increases your chances of compensating for the lack of sleep with food, which in turn quite often results in weight gain. Scientists think this may be because sleep loss affects the hormones that control our feelings of hunger and fullness. Long-term lack of sleep could put you at a higher risk for obesity and diabetes, as regularly sleeping less can affect the way your body processes blood sugar, too.
Sleepless nights lead to higher blood pressure. It is not known why exactly it happened, but studies show that people who sleep less than 5 hours a night are experiencing hypertension. And the more your blood pressure rises, the more damage it does to your blood vessels. It also makes your heart work too hard to pump blood to your body. That raises your chances of a heart attack or heart failure.
As we already know, a lot of our hormones are released during sleep. That includes sex hormones like testosterone. Lack of sleep means less testosterone gets released in the body, which in turn lowers your sex drive.
Help yourself sleep better
We listed a few tips from neuroscientist Dr Andrew Huberman, who hosted Dr Matthew Walker on his podcast. Dr Walker is a Professor of Neuroscience and Psychology and the Founder & Director of the Center for Human Sleep Science at the University of California.
Wake up at the same time each day and go to sleep when you first start feeling sleepy.
Avoid caffeine within 10-12 hours of bedtime.
View sunlight by going outside within 30-60 minutes of waking up. Do that again in the late afternoon, prior to sunset.
Avoid viewing bright lights—especially bright overhead lights between 10 pm and 4 am.
Keep the room you sleep in cool and dark.
Expect to feel really alert ~1 hour before your natural bedtime.
Limit daytime naps to less than 90 min, or don’t nap at all.
Drinking alcohol messes up your sleep. As do most sleep medications.
If you wake up in the middle of the night but you can’t fall back asleep, try Yoga Nidra (free videos available on YouTube).
If you have sleep disturbances, insomnia, or anxiety about sleep, try the research-supported sleep hypnosis (free videos available on YouTube).
Community Bridges highly recommends the full podcast episode that you can
listen to for free here.