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The Importance Of Sleep to Health

On the Importance of Sleep

There are a lot of balances we have to maintain: we need to eat right, exercise and be mindful of others. When it comes to sleep, we might be not taking enough due consideration. If we have a better understanding of how our bodies react to a lack of quality of sleep, then perhaps we will pay as much attention to getting enough sleep as we do everything else.

Matthew Walker, director of the Centre for Human Sleep Science at the University of California, Berkeley, believes we are in a “catastrophic sleep-loss epidemic”, the consequences of which are far graver than any of us could imagine. Walker has spent the last four and a half years writing Why We Sleep, a complex but urgent look at the effects of this epidemic close up, hoping that once people know of the powerful links between sleep loss and Alzheimer’s disease, cancer, diabetes, obesity and poor mental health, we will try harder to get the recommended eight hours a night. “No aspect of our biology is left unscathed by sleep deprivation,” he says. “It sinks down into every possible nook and cranny. And yet no one is doing anything about it. Things have to change: in the workplace and our communities, our homes and families. When did a doctor prescribe, not sleeping pills, but sleep itself? It needs to be prioritised, even incentivised.”

The evidence Walker presents is enough to send anyone early to bed. Without sleep, there is low energy and disease. With sleep, there is vitality and health. More than 20 large scale epidemiological studies all report the same relationship: the shorter the sleep, the shorter your life. Adults aged 45 years or older who sleep less than six hours a night are 200% more likely to have a heart attack or stroke in their lifetime, as compared with those sleeping seven or eight hours a night (part of the reason for this has to do with blood pressure: even just one night of modest sleep reduction will speed the rate of a person’s heart, hour upon hour, and increase blood pressure).

Professor David Hillman, President, Sleep Health Foundation said, “In Australia, at least nine percent of serious road crashes are due to fatigue, this equals 25,920 injuries per annum with associated costs of $277,912.00 per accident. In the workplace, there are currently 9,584 fatigue-related injuries per annum, each costing $131,912.00. “It is time for people to make sleep a priority: 18 percent of adults regularly sleep less than six hours per night and 20 percent suffer chronically from poor sleep, half of these from a sleep disorder and the remainder from poor sleep habits.”

Tips for a good nights sleep:

  • Stick to a sleep schedule of the same bedtime and wake up time, even on the weekends. This helps to regulate your body’s clock and could help you fall asleep and stay asleep for the night.
  • Practice a relaxing bedtime ritual. A relaxing, routine activity right before bedtime conducted away from bright lights helps separate your sleep time from activities that can cause excitement, stress or anxiety which can make it more difficult to fall asleep, get sound and deep sleep or remain asleep.
  • If you have trouble sleeping, avoid naps, especially in the afternoon. Power napping may help you get through the day but if you find that you can’t fall asleep at bedtime, eliminating even short catnaps may help.
  • Daily Exercise. Vigorous exercise is best, but even light exercise is better than no activity. Exercise at any time of day, but not at the expense of your sleep.
  • Design your sleep environment to establish the conditions you need for sleep. Your bedroom should be cool – between 15 and 20 degrees. Your bedroom should also be free from any noise that can disturb your sleep. Finally, your bedroom should be free from any light. Check your room for noises or other distractions. This includes a bed partner’s sleep disruptions such as snoring. Consider using blackout curtains, eye shades, ear plugs, “white noise” machines, humidifiers, fans and other devices.
  • Sleep on a comfortable mattress and pillows. Make sure your mattress is comfortable and supportive. The one you have been using for years may have exceeded its life expectancy – about 9 or 10 years for most good quality mattresses. Have comfortable pillows and make the room attractive and inviting for sleep but also free of allergens that might affect you and objects that might cause you to slip or fall if you have to get up.

Sleep in numbers

  • Two-thirds of adults in developed nations fail to obtain the nightly eight hours of sleep recommended by the World Health Organisation.
  • An adult sleeping only 6.75 hours a night would be predicted to live only to their early 60s without medical intervention.
  • A 2013 study reported that men who slept too little had a sperm count 29% lower than those who regularly get a full and restful night’s sleep.
  • If you drive a car when you have had less than five hours’ sleep, you are 4.3 times more likely to be involved in a crash. If you drive having had four hours, you are 11.5 times more likely to be involved in an accident.
  • A hot bath aids sleep not because it makes you warm, but because your dilated blood vessels radiate inner heat, and your core body temperature drops. To successfully initiate sleep, your core temperature needs to drop about 1C.
  • The time taken to reach physical exhaustion by athletes who obtain anything less than eight hours of sleep, and especially less than six hours, drops by 10-30%.
  • There are now more than 100 diagnosed sleep disorders, of which insomnia is the most common.
  • Morning types, who prefer to awake at or around dawn, make up about 40% of the population. Evening types, who prefer to go to bed late and wake up late, account for about 30%. The remaining 30% lie somewhere in between.

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