Why is sleep so important?

Why is sleep so important?

In today’s society we face a culture where we are expected to be connected constantly with the result that time allocated to sleep is increasing reduced and neglected. The statistics from the World Health Organisation (WHO) states that two thirds of adults in all developed nations fail to get the recommended eight hours of sleep. The WHO has even gone as far to declare that there is a sleep deficiency epidemic in the industrialised countries. Interestingly, humans are the only species that regularly and routinely chooses to deprive itself of adequate sleep. Lack of sleep can effect the body in a multitude of ways and is as important as diet and exercise.

Sleep and endurance performance

The Christmas period for a lot of people is an endurance event having to juggle many commitments and stresses. The research on sleep on endurance performance not surprisingly showed that sleep restriction impaired performance. However, the athletes that slept longer than eight hours led to better endurance performance. So, to optimize performance during the festive period try to get some longer nights of sleep. Easier said than done!!

Sleep and pain

For some people pain can disturb their sleep and when this happens it can become a vicious cycle. If you get a poor night sleep due to pain you are more likely to experience problems that the next night and so on. For someone experiencing lower back pain for example they may experience microarousals during the night which means that they do not get a full restful sleep. When they wake the next day the lack of sleep exacerbates the pain and the cycle continues. If this is something you are experiencing a chat with your G.P. maybe worth considering.

Sleep and injuries

The effects of sleep on musculoskeletal injuries in the sporting and work environment has been well researched. The research in young athletes found that sleep deprivation was associated with increased injuries and inversely athletes who got optimal amounts of sleep had a reduced risk of injury. In the workplace, employees with sleep problems had a higher risk and number of workplace injuries. So to prevent injuries getting a good night’s sleep is paramount.

Tips on how to improve your sleep;

  1. Exercise daily – vigorous exercise is best but even light exercise is better than no activity. Exercising earlier in the day has better outcomes.
  2. Stick to a sleep schedule of going to bed and getting up even at weekends as this will regulate your body clock which helps you fall and stay asleep
  3. If you have trouble sleeping avoid naps especially in the afternoon.
  4. Evaluate your sleeping environment. The bedroom should be a cool temperature, free of any light, noises or distractions. Consider using blackout curtains, eye shades, ear plugs.
  5. Have a comfortable mattress and pillow.
  6. Use bright light to help manage your sleep cycle. Avoid bright light in the evening and expose yourself to sunlight in the morning.
  7. Avoid alcohol, cigarettes, coffee and heavy meals in the evening as they can disrupt your sleep cycle. Try to avoid eating large meals two to three hours before bedtime. Try a light snack 45 minutes before bed if you are still hungry.
  8. Wind down before bedtime. Your body needs time to shift into the sleep mode so spending the last hour before bed doing something calming i.e. reading. If you have trouble sleep avoid electronics i.e. phones or Ipads for that hour before bedtime as the light they emanate activated the brain.
  9. If you are having trouble sleeping speak with your GP or sleep specialist. You may find keeping a sleep diary to help better evaluate common habits or sleeping patterns.