“Sleep is the best meditation.” – Dalai Lama
We spend more than a 1/3 of our life sleeping, and just like food, water and oxygen, it is essential for good health. Sleep helps to restore ourselves physically, as well as organise mental things (e.g. memories) in our brain. Basically it's required for our body and mind to function normally and therefore without it, we cannot function optimally. Sleep also helps to keep our immune systems strong, our hearts healthy, allows us to grow and heal, helps to control appetite and weight, as well as plays a major role in our attention, memory and learning.
The benefits of good sleep
During sleep your body sorts and stores information from the day, which is particularly important for consolidating long term memories for later use. Your body also releases a number of different hormones, including growth hormone, which helps your body to repair and grow. Cortisol, referred to as the stress hormone, decreases during the first few hours of sleep then increases to peak just after we wake up; this helps to get us perky for the day, as well as stimulates our appetite. Sleep also gives our sympathetic nervous system (SNS) a rest, which is your ‘fight and flight’ response that is active during the day, over stimulating your SNS can lead to burn out, which is another reason why sleep is so important. Beyond sleep allowing our body to repair and function properly, it also enhances our brains capacity, including it’s ability to comprehend, remember, judge and experience joy and satisfaction. Thus sleep is an essential part of life, as well as a keystone habit for healthy behaviours. Good sleep rolls into healthy habits across the day. Below you will find some tips for better sleep.
Lack of sleep can cause fatigue, poor memory and poor concentration, mood disturbances, poor judgement and poor physical coordination. It has also been linked to weight gain, heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes and even premature death. Further to this, sleep deprivation is linked to higher risk taking, reduced productivity and poorer lifestyle habits, such as unhealthy eating and inadequate exercise.
Your body clock
Your body has an internal clock that regulates your sleep-wake cycle. This clock is dependent on the amount of light that you are exposed to daily, particularly sun light. After sun-set, your brain releases hormones (particularly melatonin) that make you tired, however in the morning, when you're exposed to light, these hormones are suppressed, and different chemicals are released from the brain to keep you awake.
Before electricity people slept around 10 hours per night; they basically slept between sunset and sunrise. However today, sleep deprivation is very common, with the average adult sleeping for (maybe) six to seven hours each night. Mobile phones, the internet, television, netflix, being a parent, shift work, travelling, illness, medications and poor sleep habits are major culprits taxing our sleep. And so, if you're not getting enough sleep, or not sleeping well, here's what you can do...