Regular exercise and diet are known ingredients to a healthy lifestyle. But all your ‘health’ efforts could be going to waste if you are not getting enough sleep. It is after all a building block to health and happiness. Our great great grandparents got it right: we all need our beauty sleep! (technically that’s the sleep you get before midnight)
There’s no denying, we lead busy lives. Missing out on a few hours shut eye each night is easily done because life takes over. Health guidelines recommend 7-9 hours sleep a night, although this may not be practical for some (a new mum!) and others can thrive on much less.
But why all the fuss?
Sleep deprivation is bad for your overall health and fitness. When you don’t sleep well (or enough) you are at risk of weight gain (tiredness stimulates the hormones that make you hungry!), energy loss, cardiovascular disease, stroke, depression, premature aging and impaired judgement. You might also find that you plateau in your training routine.
Sleep is important for physical and mental repair and rejuvenation. Our bodies need sleep to metabolise, burn fat, create a healthy immune function and to repair tissues and muscles. Athletes use sleep to improve performance, speed, accuracy and reaction times … not to mention improve concentration and stamina. In fact, if your goal is to lose weight and reduce fat, sleep is regarded as more important than exercise! This is because the hormones leptin and ghrelin released during sleep, control hunger and feelings of fullness.
It is worth prioritising sleep as part of your healthy lifestyle. But if you struggle with your sleep, here are some tips and tricks to help you get enough quality Zzzzzz’s.
- Get a routine. As with all good things in life, we perform better with structure and routine. Our bodies are the same. With a familiar bedtime ritual this learned behaviour will help your body and mind unwind and prepare for a good night’s sleep.
- Get to bed early! Here in SA we wake up early. In fact we are the earliest risers in the world according to studies. But we also average the least number of hours per night! To average a good 8 hours sleep per night, bedtime needs to be around 10pm, for a 6am wake up. This gives your body plenty of time for mental and physical restoration.
- Limit the use of electronic gadgets and devices. This will help reduce light and mental stimulation just at a time when you are supposed to be relaxing and unwinding before bedtime.
- Make your bedroom a bat cave! Create a sleeping environment that is cool, dark and quiet. This is exactly how bats sleep and they are champion sleepers, totalling 16 hours a day.
- Exercise. The positive relationship between sleep and exercise has been widely documented. The common conclusion: daily exercise improves the quality and duration of sleep. However a 2013 study reported that this was not as clear cut. A test group of women who were diagnosed with insomnia, reported no immediate improvement in their sleep patterns after introducing a regular exercise routine. However, this group did report improvements after 4 months. This suggests that keeping at your exercise routine will eventually bear fruit.
- Music and sounds. Although this contradicts other recommendations, some people find it relaxing to listen to music. In much the same way as meditation, the right music can help your body and mind de-stress and relax, by reducing your heart rate and blood pressure. According to scientists, this 8 minute piece by Marconi Union is the most relaxing music ever produced!
The song has been created using various scientific theories and makes use of musical principles that are known to have individually calming effects.
- Sleep like a yogi (yoga nidra). Also known as yogic sleep or sleep with awareness, Yoga Nidra is an ancient practice that has gained popularity in the West. It is intended to induce full-body relaxation and a deep meditative state of consciousness. Any state of tension or irritability at bedtime will impact your ability to fall asleep or to get quality sleep. Using different techniques including imagery and body scanning, you gradually progress through four stages of yoga nidra (although many don’t reach the advanced levels) to reach deep relaxation. There are many online tutorials. Try this one out.