Your guide to a good night's sleep
“A good laugh and a long sleep are the best cures in the doctor’s book.” — Irish proverb
Did you know that most people spend a third of their lives sleeping?
Each human is a complex organism made up of trillions of cells. They work together to keep the human body running efficiently. Most of cells in the body are produced and die during the human’s life and need to be replaced. One of the few exceptions to this are the cells in the brain (neurons), which stay alive throughout a person’s life. A healthy human body is capable of maintaining a precise balance between the number of cells produced and the number of cells that die.
Good sleep provides faster regeneration of cells, therefore boosting the body’s recovery and also slows down aging. Without sleep we can’t form or maintain the pathways of neurons in our brain which let us learn and create new memories. Everyone needs sleep and it is an important part of our daily routine, but the biological purpose of sleep remains a mystery – we know that during sleep our bodies repair and grow, but why this can’t be done whilst we are awake is not clear.
Good quality sleep is vital for both our physical and mental health.
Sleep is a complex and dynamic process that affects almost every tissue, organ and system in the body. It slows down metabolism and boosts immune functions. Clinical research has demonstrated that chronic lack of sleep, or getting poor quality sleep increases the risk of many disorders including hypertension, cardiovascular disease, diabetes and depression.
Two important biological mechanisms work together to regulate wake and sleep.
Circadian rhythms are the internal body clock, controlling a wide variety of daily functions and activities including body temperature, heartbeat, metabolism and release of hormones. Circadian rhythms synchronize with our environment: such as day light, temperature and seasons.
Sleep-wake homeostasis regulates body’s activity. Sleep homeostasis reminds the body to sleep after a certain time and regulates sleep intensity.
There are several external factors that influence sleep-wake homeostasis, including the temperature outside and exposure to light. For example, night shift workers have trouble falling asleep when they go to bed and then staying awake because of their circadian rhythm and sleep- wake cycles are disrupted.
Many internal factors also influence sleep-wake cycle including medical conditions, medications, stress, age, even diet and physical activity.
How much sleep do I need?
Most adults need 7-9 hours of sleep a night. After age 60, night time sleep tends to be shorter. Many people feel that they can catch up on missed sleep during the weekends and holidays, but depending on how sleep-deprived they are, sleeping longer on weekends and holidays may not be adequate. Also, changing your sleep routine from day-to-day (such as between weekdays and weekends) results in a phenomenon known as ‘social jet-lag' because the circadian rhythms aren’t following a stable pattern, which can lead to feeling tired but also getting poorer quality sleep.
Getting good sleep is important for good health.
10 tips for getting a good night sleep.
Maintain your routine: Go to bed and wake up at the same time each day, even during weekends.
Calm your mind before going to bed: Relaxation practices, meditation, visualisation of relaxing scenes before bedtime supports a good sleep.
Exercise regularly, but no later than a few hours before going to sleep: Studies have found that 30 minutes of moderate exercise daily can promote a good sleep for an extra 45 minutes each night.
Increase your exposure to bright light (ideally sun light) during the day.
Relax before bed time, try having a warm bath: The body temperature naturally drops at night, raising temperature a degree or two with a hot bath will promote a subsequent sleep drop in temperature. Taking a warm shower doesn’t work as well as a bath, but may still have some positive effect.
Avoid caffeine and alcoholic drinks before bed time.
Don’t eat late in the evening, especially a high carb meal.
Establish a regular nightly routine before going to bed: avoid bright light and loud noise before going to sleep. Keep the bedroom at a comfortable temperature, minimise light and sounds in your bedroom. The darker the room the better for sleep.
Reduce blue light exposure in the evening by avoiding watching TV, using a PC or mobile devices before bedtime.
Use your bed for sleep and sex only, don’t read or watch TV in bed.
See a specialist if you are experiencing problems sleeping to rule out any sleep disorders. Ideally, get a lifestyle medicine specialist’s help if needed to normalise your sleep.