Sleep is the absence of wakefulness and the loss of consciousness of your surroundings but while some are able to slip into sleep as soon as their head hits the pillow, others aren’t as lucky.

In 2021 almost 1 in 5 adults have trouble falling asleep every single night and 36% of adults struggle to sleep at least on a weekly basis.

With sleep just as important for our health and wellbeing as exercise and good nutrition, our Chiropractor Jess takes a look at the importance of sleep and how you can improve your chances of getting a good nights rest.

Sleep Science

The sleep-wake cycle tells us when we are feeling tired or refreshed. As the natural light disappears the body releases a hormone called melatonin which makes us feel drowsy and when the sun rises the hormone cortisol is released which promotes energy and alertness.

This is one of the most well known circadian rhythms which are the 24 hour cycles that are part of the internal body clock. Circadian rhythms carry out essential functions and processes in the body which are managed in the brain and are influenced by our environment, especially light which is why they follow the cycle of night and day.

Once we’re asleep, we then follow a sleep cycle thats made up of four stages. The first three stages are collectively known as non-rapid eye movement (NREM) and the final stage is known as rapid eye movement (REM) sleep.

  • Stage 1 is light sleep as we transition from wakefulness. We are likely to only spend a few minutes in this stage as our heart and breathing rates start to slow down and our bodies relax.
  • Stage 2 is a deeper sleep where eye movement stops and our body temperature decreases. Most of the time spent asleep is in this stage.
  • Stage 3 is the most restorative phase as our body is the most relaxed it will be allowing the cells to reenergise and repair. The amount of time spent in this stage will decrease as throughout the night.
  • REM sleep is the phase normally associated with dreaming and we tend to enter it 90 minutes after we fall asleep. The duration of REM sleep usually increases as the night progresses and this phase has been linked to how we process memories.

These four stages repeat throughout the night until you wake up and a full cycle usually lasts for 90-120 minutes.

Benefits of Quality Sleep

We all know that a poor nights sleep can make us more irritable the next day but it also affects concentration, memory recall, reaction times and our ability to focus. Long term consequences of sleep loss have been linked to depression and anxiety.

Making sure you get quality sleep is more important than the number of hours your head is on the pillow and can improve decision making, complex thinking, and learning by preparing your brain to make new memories and helping to solidify them to prevent forgetting. When you’re well rested, your immune system is better supported and getting consistent good rest lowers the risk of heart attacks, strokes and diabetes.

Our response to pain changes after we sleep, even subtle changes each night have been found to affect our day-to-day ability to cope with pain and discomfort. Prolonged sleep loss has been shown to lower our pain tolerance, which is why my patients will know I’m always banging on about getting as much rest as possible!

How to get a better nights kip?

With there being so many benefits, here are a few tip to help you increase your chances of having a good forty winks.

Establish a routine

Most of us tend to stay up later on the weekends because we can afford the luxury of a lie in the next morning but research has found that changing our sleep and wake times can affect our circadian rhythm. To avoid having a rigid routine, aim to go to bed within the same half an hour window each night, that way you’re more likely to stick with it.

To wake up gently in the morning, look into sunrise alarm clocks. They mimic the morning light, rousing us naturally as it they help to prepare your body to wake up by tapping into our circadian rhythms.

Avoid working from bed

As tempting as it can be if you are working from home, try not to use your bedroom as your office as this blurs the boundaries between rest and work making it harder to fall asleep in the evenings.

If you have to use your bedroom, try to finish at the same time every evening to go do an activity, like changing your outfit or going for a walk, to signify the end of your work day and leave the space tidy so you’re not reminded of work when you go to bed.

Keep active

Daily activity helps to support your internal body clock which makes it easier to fall asleep at night. It doesn’t have to be an intense form of exercise, housework and gardening are just as effective.

Reduce screen time

We are all guilty of spending a lot of time looking at screens and this has a negative impact as it stimulates our brains keeping us awake and alert. If you can’t avoid screens, consider a pair of blue light glasses to stop the emitted light suppressing of the sleep hormone melatonin.

Get natural light

Exposure early in the day helps to reinforce our circadian rhythms and even just working near a window can help to reset the body clock and make us more alert.

Make your bedroom relaxing

Creating a calm and relaxing environment in your bedroom can help you to achieve a good nights rest. To improve your chances, aim to keep the room cool, dark and quiet with a comfortable bedding.

Changing our night time habits can seem daunting at first but you don’t have to change everything at once; do what works for you and remember that everyone will need a different routine.

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