Why Sleep Matters

Mar 15, 2019Blog

Why Sleep Matters

Today is World Sleep Day, which encourages us to think about our sleep and the potential impact on our health

Sleep is something we often don’t focus on. Rather than being seen as a vital element for our wellbeing, it’s regarded as an inconvenience, something that gets in the way of our busy lives and uses time we don’t have. Needing sleep is somehow thought of as a weakness, with some notable successful people throughout history claiming that they don’t need much in the way of shut eye, including Margaret Thatcher, Thomas Edison and Martha Stewart.

However, sleep has a massive impact on our health, with recent research suggesting that getting fewer than 6-7 hours per night doubles our cancer risk. Additionally, lack of sleep can potentially contribute to cardiovascular disease, disruption in blood sugar balance increasing the risk of Type 2 Diabetes and interferes with the hormones which control appetite, pre-disposing us to weight gain. Scary stuff!

As well as making sure you get to bed at a decent time there are some simple tips which can help you fall asleep more easily and get a more restful night.

From a nutrition perspective, there are a few nutrients which are important for good sleep. Magnesium is a key mineral for many processes in the body, but particularly for sleep. It is involved in the regulation of melatonin, an important hormone for signalling the body that it’s time sleep. It also acts as a relaxant, which may have an impact on restful sleep. Good sources of magnesium include green leafy veg, nuts, whole grains and seafood.

The amino acid tryptophan is involved in the production of melatonin, a hormone key to good sleep. Ensuring you eat foods such as turkey, milk, nuts and seeds may help.

Caffeine and alcohol can both prevent us from getting a restful night. Excess caffeine can prevent us from falling asleep in the first place, so it’s best to avoid it after 2pm, or earlier if you’re particularly sensitive. Even if you don’t have a problem falling asleep, research has shown that both caffeine and alcohol disrupt our sleep cycles, so the sleep we do get is less restful and can leave us feeling tired the next day.

A good bedtime routine is also useful as it helps us to wind down and acts as a cue that it’s time for bed. A warm bath can help lower body temperature which aids sleep and is relaxing. Try to avoid using screens (particularly phones or iPads) in the last 60-90 mins before bed as the blue light they emit interferes with melatonin production.

Finally, trying to keep to a consistent sleep schedule can be helpful. Staying up late at the weekend and having long lie ins can interrupt our normal sleep/wake cycles, so keeping our patterns more or less the same the across the week is a good idea.

Sweet dreams!