I remember in the 80’s being super impressed that the then Prime Minister functioned on just four hours of sleep a night! Hindsight is a wonderful gift and what I thought at the time was cool, actually transpired to be a very bad idea! 

Sleep is something all mammals do and if you listen to any sleep expert they will tell you that it is also the most important thing that we do for our health.

From an evolutionary perspective if we didn’t need sleep it would no longer be something we do or spend so much time doing it! Being asleep is dangerous. We cut ourselves off from our senses and have no idea what is happening around us – we are at our most vulnerable. So why do we sleep and why is it so important?

New research is always coming out about what happens when we sleep, in fact a very recent study published in Science magazine has shown that we pump cerebrospinal fluid into the brain every 20 seconds when we sleep, clearing out debris in our brains! How cool is that?!

Sleep provides the body with much needed rest, and each sleep phase provides a very specific service, we have known for a while that we sleep in cycles roughly 90 mins in length. If you have a sleep tracker you will notice that the cycles are like waves; light, deep, REM. There are a number of stages of sleep, but most often light sleep also incorporates the portion of sleep where you’re actually falling asleep. It’s not quite that simple, what you will notice though, is that deep sleep tends to occur more in the first half of the night. 

  • Light sleep makes up the majority of our sleep, our systems – brain, body and metabolism –  use this time to ‘relax’ and sort themselves out.
  • Deep sleep provides recovery and repair time for the brain and body. During deep sleep the pituitary gland secretes Human Growth Hormone – a hormone vital to restoration of damaged tissues and regeneration of cells. It is the restorative phase of sleep and the one you will notice the next day, if you don’t get enough. 
  • REM sleep (or dream sleep) is when our brain is most active – we send signals to ‘paralyse’ the body and let the brain sort out and consolidate the information collated through the day. Your brain actually moves information from the short to long term memory. It is called REM based on the fact that we have rapid eye movement during this period. Also your heart rate increases and protein synthesis is at its peak, meaning that your body is repairing itself. Whilst your brain is active your body is in rest and repair mode.

So, we know how important sleep is, and yet very few of us prioritize it, in a 2016 CDC report it was thought that 1 in 3 Americans was not getting enough sleep and that was three years ago!

On average you need between 7-9 hours sleep. How best can you achieve this? These are my top 5 sleep hacks:

  1. Avoid blue light at least 2 hours before bed. These days we are surrounded by blue light from screens and artificial light. The problem with it is that it prevents the production of melatonin – the hormone that sends the signals that it is time for sleep. If you can’t avoid blue light, try blue blocking glasses like the ones I’m wearing here – These are “trudark” but others are availabe! We have bulbs that change colour so come the evening they are on red. 
  1. Your bedroom should be dark, when I say dark, I mean seriously dark! If you can see your hand in front of your face, it’s too light! Again this lets your body obey its natural circadian rhythm do it’s thing! Light is absorbed through your body as well as your eyes, so when you can, making sure your room is pitch black is a great way to go to sleep and stay asleep.
  1. Sleep in a cool room – our body temperate decreases when we sleep, this is to help the body perform all the vital functions that occur when we sleep. Keeping the bedroom cool allows us to fall asleep faster and stay asleep longer. I’m the lucky owner of a ChiliPad – a super cool mattress topper that runs cool water around the topper and keeps my body at a steady temperature. As someone who suffers from being too hot in bed, this is an excellent hack. 
  1. Natural supplement hacks that can help are: Magnesium – this helps with the production of calming neurotransmitters such as GABA, getting you ready for sleep.Your brain needs fuel for all the activity that takes place at night A bit of fat (healthly, such as coconut oil)  and or a teaspoon of honey before bed will give your brain the fuel it needs and helps you stay asleep.
  1. Stick to a routine – even at the weekend when a lie-in seems appealing! Your body loves routine especially when it comes to your circadian rhythm. You’ll soon find that this also helps with waking up! Your body will know when to raise the morning hormone cortisol, it will also get used to knowing when to start the production of melatonin and thus the onset of a good nights sleep.

I really hope that this information will help you sleep better. As more research comes out on the importance of sleep and the detriment to health of not getting enough sleep, it is sad to note that the same Prime Minister who boasted of being able to get by on so little sleep, in the end succumbed to dementia.

Wishing you all a great and on going good nights sleep.