This week we’re looking at our 9th pillar of health; sleep.
Sound, uninterrupted, beautiful sleep is crucial when it comes to maintaining our overall wellbeing. In fact, chronic under sleeping has been linked to type two diabetes, weight gain, depression and even early death.
As I’ve said previously, health is the combination of small factors you do consistently. In the hierarchy of health, I personally believe sleep and stress are at the top of the pyramid yet frequently get overlooked.
We spend a lot of time factoring in nutrition and exercise, but often at the expense of sleep.
There’s a reason why sleep deprivation is used as a form of torture – it is horrendous in all senses of the word and messes with your physical, hormonal and mental health.
Here are four things you need to know about sleep.
It allows our bodies to recover and regenerate. Research has shown that without this recovery and regeneration, a sleep deficit can contribute to major illnesses like heart disease, diabetes and obesity. It can trigger anxiety and depression. It can also lead to impaired mental performance, memory loss and can lower our immunity making us more prone to bugs like the flu.
What some people don’t know is that even short-term sleep deficit has negative consequences.
One night of poor sleep can temporarily leave you as insulin resistant as a diabetic!
This is problematic as when we are tired we often reach for energy stimulants to get us through; such as sugar or caffeine.
On the flip side, good sleep improves our mood, mental ability, memory, immunity and physical performance.
This means that both hormonal and neurochemical (mental) changes take place during your sleeping hours.
Most healthy adults will experience the following three stages of sleep:
To understand how and why sleep has such a huge impact on our health, let’s look at how our sleep cycle works and how it affects our body.
Our internal body clock, known as the circadian rhythm, is naturally regulated by light, dark and by changes in body functions every 24 hours. This includes our body temperature, hormones, airways and kidneys.
This means levels of hormones such as the thyroid hormone, thyroxine and our sleep hormone, melatonin, are different by day than by night. Interrupted sleep can throw our hormone balance off whack and create health problems. For example, thyroxine regulates our metabolism, if this is affected it can lead to weight gain and sugar cravings.
Melatonin is especially important when it comes to bedtime. This hormone changes our core body temperature and lets us know when we’re tired. Melatonin is produced when it gets dark. Production speeds up from about 10pm onwards – which is why we feel more tired the later it gets. As sunrise looms, melatonin drops off and cortisol production kicks in - this wakes us up.
In today’s modern environment we’re constantly exposed to the bright light from electronic devices. This unnatural light disrupts the earth’s day-night cycle that regulates our sleep cycle and is the reason so many of us struggle to drift off to sleep.
A good guideline to stick to is 8 hours of uninterrupted sleep per night. However there are lots of factors that play into this. In winter when the days are shorter we benefit from extra sleep while it is dark. The amount of optimum sleep also varies between individuals. Some people function perfectly well on six or seven hours sleep, while others need nine. Infants, of course, need a lot more sleep as it allows their wee bodies develop. Elite athletes also need extra snooze time to allow their bodies to fully recover.
Regardless of your ‘personal best’ sleep time, one thing is for certain: No-one can survive on minimal sleep, long-term.
Research also shows us that when the body gets less than six hours sleep it will affect memory, especially short-term memory. Early studies into dementia have pinpointed 6 hours as the minimum requirement for disease prevention.
We can try and fill our days with exercise, healthy meals, social interaction and a fulfilling work life but if we aren’t sleeping we can potentially undo all this good work.
Low energy and elevated cortisol levels will damage our metabolism.
Sleep is vital for optimal health and wellbeing. It affects so much more than just our energy. For this week’s challenge we want you to aim for 8 hours uninterrupted sleep each night. This means sleeping from 10pm-6am.
Be sure to check out our other blogs this week on a nourishing wind-down routine for bed and tips for improving your sleep if you struggle to fall asleep.
Be sure to check in to our Facebook page as we will be posting helpful tips and inspiration for this challenge as well as a useful weekly prize.
We’d also love to see all your changes. Share your pics with us on Instagram using #bepurebenwarren or by tagging us @bepurebenwarren
This blog is part of our 10 pillars of health series. Each week we will deliver content, recipes and challenges relevant to each pillar of health that we believe are the foundations for living a healthier, happier, more energised life. The idea being that if we focus on making progress in one area each week it will be easier, and more sustainable, over the long-term.
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