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Why we sleep? And killing the myths that it’s for wimps!

By Darren O'Toole | In Health | on January 18, 2019

Although personal training is predominantly about exercise and nutrition in order to improve one’s health, the broader scope of the individual should also be well considered.

Sleep, and the quality and quantity of it, is one such area that it’d be foolish to ignore. Having recently read Matthew Walker’s excellent book: ‘Why we sleep: The new science of sleep and dreams’, a book I’d strongly recommend, it becomes stark the effects of insufficient sleep on health and productivity.

Two-thirds of adults throughout all developed nations fail to obtain the recommended eight hours of nightly sleep. Walker states:

‘Routinely sleeping less than six or seven hours a night demolishes your immune system, more than doubling your risk of cancer. Insufficient sleep is a key lifestyle factor determining whether or not you will develop Alzheimer’s disease. Inadequate sleep—even moderate reductions for just one week—disrupts blood sugar levels so profoundly that you would be classified as pre-diabetic. Short sleeping increases the likelihood of your coronary arteries becoming blocked and brittle, setting you on a path toward cardiovascular disease, stroke, and congestive heart failure.’

So with all of this in mind, a good night’s sleep may not be a bad option. Here are 12 tips provided for improved sleep quality and quantity. The health benefits could be huge so if you haven’t mastered it yet, take a little time to focus on your sleep this year.

Top tips for better sleep:

1. Stick to a sleep schedule. Go to bed and wake up at the same time each day. Sleeping later on weekends won’t fully make up for a lack of sleep during the week and will make it harder to wake up early on Monday morning.

2. Exercise is great, but not too late in the day. Try to exercise at least thirty minutes on most days but not later than two to three hours before your bedtime.

3. Avoid stimulants: caffeine and nicotine.

4. Avoid alcoholic drinks before bed. Having a nightcap or alcoholic beverage before sleep may help you relax, but it’ll also keep you in the lighter stages of sleep. This means you miss out on valuable dream sleep which helps to improve your memory.

5. Avoid large meals and beverages late at night.

6. If possible, avoid medicines that delay or disrupt your sleep.

7. No naps after 3 p.m. Naps can help make up for lost sleep, but late afternoon naps can make it harder to fall asleep at night.

8. Relax before bed. Don’t overschedule your day so that no time is left for unwinding. A relaxing activity, such as reading or listening to music, should be part of your bedtime ritual.

9. Take a hot bath before bed. The drop in body temperature after getting out of the bath may help you feel sleepy, and the bath can help you relax and slow down so you’re more ready to sleep.

10. Dark bedroom, cool bedroom, gadget-free bedroom. Get rid of anything in your bedroom that might distract you from sleep, such as noises, bright lights, an uncomfortable bed, or warm temperatures. You sleep better if the temperature in the room is kept on the cool side, aim for around 18 degrees.

11. Have the right sunlight exposure. Don’t get stuck in an office all day and miss out on a little bit of natural light (especially in the winter). Daylight is key to regulating daily sleep patterns.

12. Don’t lie in bed awake. This is a little cognitive behavioural therapy whereby If you find yourself still awake after staying in bed for more than twenty minutes or if you are starting to feel anxious or worried, get up and do some relaxing activity until you feel sleepy. The anxiety of not being able to sleep can make it harder to fall asleep.

If sleep is an issue, and for many people it is, your health will suffer. There are no ifs and buts when it comes to that. Gordon Gecko in ‘Wall Street’ may have popularised a generation of city workers to declare: “Sleep is for wimps” but it is in fact for survival.

Focus on these 12 key points and your short and long-term health will thank you for it.

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