The importance of sleep gets less attention than a healthy diet and regular exercise. We’ve all heard the phrase, “sleep on it” but information from the Sleep Health Foundation explains why we should do just that.
The importance of sleep
Sleep is important for learning, memory and creativity. It prepares our brains for learning new things, we pay closer attention to them and in turn they ‘stick’ better in our memories.
During sleep our brain replays memories from the day, increasing neural connections. This helps us remember the things we experienced when we were awake. Sleep also improves our creativity, helping us find new solutions by looking at things new ways while we sleep.
What happens when we don’t get enough?
First things that suffer are related to our brain function; we can’t hold our attention and our memory becomes worse. Our reactions are slowed, and our moods begin to fluctuate more than normal.
If inadequate sleep continues, it may put our physical and mental health at risk. The likelihood of depression increases, and our immune system suffers. Our efficiency at work may reduce and we are at higher risk of having a car accident.
Getting the most out of our sleep
Given our busy lifestyles, finding time for a full 8 hours (the Sleep Health Foundation recommends between 7-8 hours of sleep for adults) can seem impossible. But there’s a few things we can do during the day and into the evening that can improve the quality of our shut eye.
During the day
- Try and get some exercise; the best time is in the morning and before your evening meal.
- Spend some time outside in the natural daylight. This will help regulate your body clock and melatonin levels.
- Stay out of bed and the bedroom. Try not to study or work in bed or use the bedroom like you would a living room. This stops the brain from linking your bed with sleep and can make it harder to fall asleep later.
In the evening
- Develop a wind-down routine, have a set time that you go to bed and get up- and stick to it. This will help to regulate your body clock.
- Don’t go to bed on a full or empty stomach and limit caffeine and alcohol in the evenings. Aim to have your last meal at least 2 hours prior to your bedtime.
- Avoid technology like tablets and smart phones. The blue light they emit can disrupt melatonin production.
- If you can’t slow your mind, the Sleep Health Foundation recommends setting some time aside before you go to bed to reflect on the day. Use this time to make plans for tomorrow and come up with possible solutions to things that are worrying you. This way when you go to bed, you’ve got a clear mind.
We’ve all experienced a bad night’s sleep at some stage. But things like sleep disorders, stress, some medications and pregnancy can have an impact on your sleep for longer than just a night or two. If you have concerns about your sleep, speak with your GP or health professional.
Information sourced from the Sleep Health Foundation. For more information, visit sleephealthfoundation.org.au.