Somebody very dear to me hasn’t been sleeping very well. A variety of aids have been utilized to entice this beauty but with little success. Cue inspiration…
Given that we spend nearly a third of our lives sleeping, this vital entity is drenched in myths ranging from somewhat true to the absolutely bizarre! What is certain is that regular and adequate sleeping patterns are vital to our wellbeing, just like diet and exercise. Just be sure you don’t exercise too close to bed, it elevates your core body temperature and may make it tough to fall asleep. It’s best to avoid aerobic exercise in the 1 to 2 hours before you go to bed. Light stretching or yoga closer to bed is usually okay. Food wise, don’t sleep on an empty or a stuffed stomach as both hinder sleep quality. As for the ‘cheese gives you nightmares’ myth; It is a myth!
Margaret Thatcher once famously remarked in an interview that she only required 4 hours of sleep a day to function properly. A tall claim and I reckon she must have stolen a fair few cheeky naps in between because most experts will state that 7-9 hours a day is necessary for most adults. While sleep patterns change as we age, the amount of sleep we need generally does not. Older people may wake more frequently through the night but their sleep need is no less than younger adults. Because they may sleep less during the night, older people tend to sleep more during the day. “Naps planned as part of a regular daily routine can be useful in promoting wakefulness after the person awakens”, states Dr. Robert Basner, director of the sleep center at New York-Presbyterian Hospital/Columbia University Medical Center. Teenagers, on the other hand, need at least 8.5 to 10 hours of sleep each night. This can be explained by a puberty phenomenon that occurs called ‘delayed sleep phase disorder’ and is characterized by a delayed sleep-wake timing. So, don’t be quick to label the teen you’re raising as lazy and unmotivated. “Chill moms!”
When we don’t get adequate sleep, we accumulate a sleep debt that can be difficult to “pay back” if it becomes too big. Many of us feel we can ‘catch up’ on missed sleep hours on the weekend but if you try to do so and then start sleeping less at the beginning of the next week, you quickly end up just as tired as before. Dr Elizabeth Klerman, a professor in the Division of Sleep Medicine at Brigham and Women’s Hospital concluded that,
“Individuals who try to catch up on sleep on the weekends may not realize that they are accumulating a chronic sleep debt.” The resulting sleep deprivation paves the way for serious health problems …
Blood pressure is variable during the sleep cycle. Interrupted sleep, however, can negatively affect the normal variability and may lead to hypertension and cardiovascular problems. Insufficient sleep affects growth hormone secretion, which in turn is linked to obesity. A 2004 study by Stanford University found that sleep loss caused significant changes in the levels of a hormone called Grehlin, which triggers appetite and resulted in lower levels of the hormone Leptin, triggering a starvation-like response in the body. Research further indicates that insufficient sleep impairs the body’s ability to use insulin, which can lead to the onset of diabetes.
Fragmented sleep can cause a lowered metabolism and increased levels of the hormone cortisol. Increased cortisol levels can result in an increased appetite and a decrease in one’s ability to burn calories. Melatonin is a hormone secreted at night whilst we are asleep and for shift workers this is particularly problematic as the very nature of their work challenges the traditional circadian rhythm. Excessive daytime sleepiness will naturally result but it will be disturbed and non-restful in nature.
Not getting enough REM sleep has been linked to migraines and poor emotional stability. If you are struggling to sleep and counting sheep is your go-to technique for dozing off, you might want to consider banishing them back to the farm where they belong as sheepcounting is actually a terrible bedtime routine. Scientists at Oxford University‘s Department of Experimental Psychology put this myth to test and they found that when volunteers were asked to visualize a range of different scenarios as they tried to go to sleep, those who pictured images of counting sheep took up to 20 minutes longer to fall asleep than those who imagined other relaxing scenarios such as a quiet, crackling fireplace.
It may sound counter-intuitive but if you keep waking up at night, you may be better off getting out of your bed, rather than staying where you are. According to Stephanie Silberman of the American Academy Of Sleep Medicine, the longer you stay in bed awake, the less you will associate your bed with a place of rest, making it even harder for you to fall asleep. Some people believe that a glass of warm milk can help you fall asleep because it contains tryptophan that is responsible for producing serotonin, which is vital for healthy sleep. However, evidence has shown that a glass of milk on its own will not produce these effects. You body also needs carbohydrate-rich foods, which help to produce insulin. This is essential in order for tryptophan to have any sleep inducing effects. It’s possible that the effects of milk as a sleep aid may be purely psychological. People may associate milk with their childhood, motherly care and being tucked up in bed at night.
So, not milk, but before you reach out to pour yourself an alcoholic beverage, STOP! While alcohol may calm you and speed the onset of sleep initially, as your body metabolizes alcohol, the chemicals that are produced break up the quality of sleep and can lead to being awake in the middle of the night. Don’t reach out for a book or switch on the telly either because you are in danger of developing ‘learned’ or ‘psychophysiological’ insomnia. Walk around to refresh the mind before it wants to rest.
That being said know that during sleep it is only the body that rests. When we sleep, we typically drift between two sleep states, REM (rapid eye movement) and non-REM, in 90-minute cycles. Non-REM sleep has four stages and REM sleep is an active sleep where dreams occur. And on that dreamy note, I leave you this week for fear of the midnight oil burning into my own beauty sleep. Goodnight folks ☺
Dr. Daamini Shrivastav (BA.MBB Ch) heads marketing, media and communications at Conceive Gynaecology & Fertility Hospital. She’s a self-confessed ‘all-thingshealth’ buff and besides being a Pilates Instructor, she is also founder and owner of #theRYELife.