How sleeping better is good for you

Our bodies need sleep for our health and well-being in the same way that they need eating, drinking, and breathing and there are many ways in which a good night’s sleep helps keep us healthy.

It helps repair our bodies

Whilst asleep, our body produces extra protein molecules that help strengthen our immune system, and repair any damage done when we are stressed or have been exposed to potentially harmful substances such as pollutants and infectious bacteria.

It helps keep our heart healthy

Our cardiovascular system is constantly under pressure and sleep helps to reduce the levels of stress and inflammation in your body. High levels of inflammation in the body are linked to heart disease and strokes, and deep sleep can also help keep blood pressure (which plays a role in heart disease) lowered.

It helps reduce stress

Not only can a good nights’ sleep help lower blood pressure, it can also reduce elevated levels of stress hormones such as cortisol, which are often raised as a result of today's pressures of life and fast paced lifestyles.

It helps improve our memory and concentration

We all know that a poor nights’ sleep can leave you with a 'foggy' feeling the next day and make it difficult to concentrate. This often leads to memory problems with facts, faces, lessons, or even conversations. Sleeping well helps prevent these difficulties because, as you sleep, your brain is busy organizing and correlating memories from the last 12 hours and earlier. During sleep the brain can process new experiences and facts, increasing your understanding and helping you to keep memories.

It helps regulate our weight

It is not often realised that sleep helps to regulate the hormones that affect and control our appetite. If your body is deprived of sleep, this normal balance of hormones is interrupted, often causing the appetite to increase. It also increases the desire to eat high-fat high-sugar foods rather than for healthier foods such as fruit and vegetables. In addition, lack of sleep may increase the risk of developing type 2 diabetes by affecting how your body processes glucose, which is the carbohydrate your cells use for fuel.

It helps with our moods

If they do not get enough sleep, many people become agitated or moody the following day. Yet, when limited sleep becomes a chronic issue, studies have shown it can lead to long-term mood disorders such as depression or anxiety.

How can I increase my chances of a good nights’ sleep?

Most of the reasons why people sleep badly are very common, but time and again many people do not consider them, which is a shame since most cases are readily treatable. It must always be remembered that tobacco, alcohol and caffeine all disturb sleep in everyone, even in people who think these have no effect on them. Although alcohol may be thought of as a relaxant it is in fact a cause of uneven, irregular sleep later in the night and should be avoided at bedtime. Similarly, chronic smoking will disturb sleep, and it should be remembered that caffeine stays in the body for a long time in some people and they may need to be caffeine-free all evening in order to achieve better sleep.

Routine also appears to be important in many people, and waking at the same time each morning helps the body’s natural rhythms that in turn help the onset of sleep. There is little point in lying in bed desperately willing yourself to fall asleep. This becomes a self-defeating exercise and it is far better to get up and do something different for a while until you feel tired once more. Exercise taken that day may not in fact guarantee refreshing sleep that same night, but it is good to try to get into the habit of doing some exercise on a daily basis since this often deepens sleep over a period of time. Try not to go to bed hungry or overfull, and do not have the bedroom too warm since this can promote waking in the early hours. View the bedroom as a place for sleeping rather than for watching TV or working, and remember that sex is one of nature’s better ways of promoting deep sleep.

As a general rule, try to avoid sleeping tablets whenever possible. Apart from the problems of dependence, they do not promote true restful sleep and if they are used it should only be in the short-term to try to encourage an initial change in sleep pattern.