And so, to bed: sleep, a repeat prescription you can pick up every night¹
These days, being busy has become somewhat of a badge of honour and it seems that in our quest to do more in our day, many of us are willing to sacrifice sleep in the process. It may seem like missing a few hours of sleep won’t impact your health greatly, but adequate rest underpins the other important pillars of health we’ve discussed such as diet, physical activity and stress and mood. Getting the optimal amount of shut-eye may be more important than you think.
Why do we need sleep?
Professor Matthew Walker, Professor of Neuroscience and Psychology at Berkeley and author of the seminal book Why We Sleep has said that sleep is the foundation of other critical aspects of health such as diet and exercise¹. If sleep isn’t optimised, it’s difficult to achieve balance in other areas.
Sleep greatly influences the functioning of the body, including the systems that help the body operate. Poor sleep therefore has widespread effects on both physical and mental health. From its impact on the immune system²; to disrupting blood sugar levels (a risk factor for insulin resistance and diabetes)³; increasing the risk of cardiovascular disease⁴; difficulty controlling appetite and obesity (poor sleep results in a decrease in the hormone leptin which controls appetite and an increase in ghrelin which increases hunger)⁵; and insomnia’s causal links to the onset of psychiatric conditions⁶, the effects of lack of sleep are far-reaching.
Notably, there is evidence that suggests sleep can reduce the risk or severity of cognitive decline in the ageing process⁷. It also helps in our ability to learn, problem solve⁸ and regulate our emotions⁹.
What impacts sleep?
So, what’s getting in the way of you and a good night’s rest? There are several factors that can impact sleep. Research has found that the following contribute to how much sleep you get every night:
- High stress
- Low mood (causing hypersomnia or insomnia)
- Medical problems (bladder issues, menopause, pain, sleep apnoea)
- Certain medications
- Environmental factors (light changes, external noise, temperature, comfort)
- Substances (caffeine, alcohol, nicotine)
Walker has said that sleep scientists have been lobbying for doctors to prescribe sleep to treat health conditions and that it is a repeat prescription for health that we can pick up every night. It’s important to reposition sleep as being a non-negotiable for good health, as critical as diet and exercise, perhaps even more so. It’s now time to consider the wide-ranging effects of sleep on our overall health and wellbeing, and start prioritising it in your life. Make it something that you value and make ample time for—your body and mind will greatly benefit from it.
Completely revamping your sleep habits will require making changes to your current routine. To begin, look at the myriad benefits of sleep and think about which might be important for you to consider. Also, look at the possible roadblocks getting in between you and a good night’s rest, and what you can do to move past them to get the kind of sleep you need.
Read more about stimulants that can affect sleep.