There are two fundamentals: sleep and breathing. Combining these with good nutrition, regular exercise, resting time and healthy relationships, is the key to better and healthier aging, strong immunity and overall longevity.
When did you last enjoy a deep sleep and how did it make you feel? A good night’s shut-eye can make you cleverer, more amenable, help you maintain your weight, and generally help you to be happier and healthier. Sleep is so powerful that it can help stave off dementia and depression. Sleep and wakefulness govern everything about our mental and physical heath. In this article, I will not only cover what is useful about sleep but also how you can improve the quality of your sleep so that you can be more focused, alert and emotionally stable when you are awake. It turns out that what we do during our wakeful state will determine the quantity and quality of our sleep. Below I will provide a range of tools for anyone wishing to understand more and improve their sleep and wakeful state.
Sleep has always been my refuge and something I enjoy, so much so that when I was at university, one of my friends felt the need to calculate the hours I would spend sleeping during my life, based on my regular 8–9 hours. It made me laugh then, but I will admit that I am a bit envious of those of you who can stay up late and still be very productive. After gaining more knowledge on this fascinating subject, it turns out that while my friend had more time to do things during late evenings, his lack of sleep (less than 6 hours) might not give him an advantage in the long run.
‘The shorter your sleep, the shorter your life,’ notes Dr Matthew Walker, founder–director of the Center for Human Sleep Science at the University of California.
A healthy sleep routine is quite simple, yet for some it is not so easy to maintain. Adults need a regular routine of 7–9 hours of sleep to strengthen their immune system, mental and physical health, and to sustain overall wellbeing. Find out your sleep type here.
Sleep is Non-negotiable.
A lack of sleep is harmful in many ways:
It will make you more impulsive and more likely to take unnecessary risks.
Natural brain and body detoxification occurs during your deep sleep phases. If this is interrupted (i.e. if sleep is less than 6 hours) conditions such as Alzheimer’s disease are more likely to develop.
People that typically sleep less than 6 hours have a 200% higher risk of a heart attack.
Heightened cortisol levels from ongoing stress cannot drop during the night, which leads to many problems over time: high blood sugar with increased thirst and urination, osteoporosis, depression, and more frequent illnesses.
Sleep has a profound impact on our immune system - one night of 4 hours of sleep will drop natural killer cells (body cancer fight cells) by 70%.
Hormones are impacted too. In males, having only 4–5 hours of sleep for a few days results in a dramatic drop in testosterone. In females, reproductive health is affected.
Please be aware that you cannot offset a lack of sleep during the night with a nap during the day.
Your body is not able to perform the same cleansing and rejuvenating processes it is able to carry out during deep sleep phases. Plus, if you already have sleep problems during the night, a nap is not advised, according to Dr Walker. Attempting to catch up on sleep over the weekend may also not always be effective and can result in physical and mental fatigue.
Types of Sleep
We have two types of sleep: non-rapid eye movement (NREM) and rapid eye movement (REM). During the night, you usually progress through four stages of NREM before entering REM, which occurs about 1–2 hours after falling asleep. The cycle is repeated three up to five times each night.
NREM sleep helps your body wind down and fall into a deep sleep. It helps your body to physically heal, recover from illness, deal with stress and solve problems. NREM sleep also plays a role in memory consolidation and can help boost the immune system.
REM sleep bolsters learning and memory and affects your mood and productivity. Getting enough REM sleep can improve recall and memory consolidation, and help your brain regulate the synapses associated with some types of motor learning. REM sleep is the sleep phase closest to wakefulness and is where most of our dreaming occurs.
I do not want to scare you, but rather give hope, and stress the importance of sufficient sleep. Sleep affects almost every type of tissue and system in our body – from the brain, heart and lungs to metabolism, immune function, mood and disease resistance. Sleep allows your body to heal, deal with stress, solve problems, improve on learning, consolidate memories and ultimately, good sleeping habits can lead to a prolonged, healthy life.
Learn How to Promote Healthy Sleep Habits.
Establish a consistent sleep and wake routine (even on the weekend).
Reduce caffeine. Caffeine temporarily blocks the signal from adenosine, our sleep chemical.
Avoid late-night cardio like running.
Limit drinking alcohol before bedtime. Alcohol robs you of deep REM sleep, which your brain requires for optimal restoration.
Eat light at night and drink less fluids to avoid bathroom trips.
If you take medication and/or supplements, review the side effects and perhaps adjust the time of day you're taking it (discuss with your Doctor), to ensure it will not interfere with your sleep
Create a relaxing routine before bed: dim the lights, read, listen to music, stretch (Yin Yoga).
Set up your bedroom with ideal sleeping conditions: cool, dark, quiet and gadget-free.
Sleep breathing though your nose (more on this in my next block on breath).
Start your day (if possible) exposing yourself to natural sunlight. At least 10 minutes on sunny days and 30 minutes on cloudy days. Without sunglasses! This simple practice will set you up for a regular sleep/wakefulness pattern, make you more alert and less hungry – I know!
Sleep is a key part of the foundation for a healthy, happier life.
It will make you more amenable, help you maintain your weight and complements good nutrition, regular exercise, healthy relationships, and relaxation time to give you a healthy life.
Please get in contact if you have any questions or like support.
Iris – Your Transformational Coach
I-YTC is about maximising and sustaining the wellbeing and performance of individuals and organisations in harmony with their environment.