How Important are our Z’s?: Sleep and Wellbeing

Sleep is an often overlooked but vital part of our daily routine. With the many demands of the modern world, our sleep may be the first thing to suffer. Today we take a look at what healthy sleep looks like, and the ways we can improve sleep hygiene and our resulting wellbeing.

Before we begin, feel free to check out this brief video (1:53) about sleep:

What is healthy sleep?

It is generally recommended that individuals between 18 and 64 years old sleep for between 7 and 9 hours per night. This allows the movement through the four stages of sleep (which we won’t be going through here, but can be covered in a subsequent instalment if requested), as well as helping you to wake up feeling refreshed and have enough energy throughout the day.

What is sleep hygiene?

Sleep hygiene is the set of behavioural and environmental factors that can be modified to promote healthy sleep. By targeting these and improving daily rest, our general well-being can also be improved.

Why is sleep important?

Sleep is a very important function for our body, as it allows us to regenerate damaged neurons (the cells that send messages throughout the body) and clears out the waste products that our cells produce during our waking time. A lack of sleep can delay our response times, as well as negatively impacting on our learning and memory, as memories are consolidated while we sleep. In addition to this, when we don’t get enough sleep our appetite is affected, our immune system is weakened and our stress hormones become elevated.

What are the barriers to sleep and how can they be overcome?

There are several barriers to a good night’s rest that can prevent us getting as much sleep as we need. Some of these are environmental, such as noise, light and temperature. Others include stress, poor mental health, bad habits, pain, trauma, and cognitive overload. Our electronic devices also act as barriers, due to factors such as the light from screens, psychological stimulation, and anxiety about social connection. For some individuals, substance use can play a role. Caffeine, nicotine, and the side effects of some medications can keep us awake. For many, alcohol can aid in sleep, but drastically reduces the quality of that sleep. A reliance on sleeping pills is also not ideal, as it reduces the quality of sleep in the long-term. There are also a variety of sleep disorders that can impact our night-time rests. Insomnia is one of the more well-known of these, but others include sleep apnoea, advanced or delayed sleep phase disorders, restless legs syndrome and narcolepsy. Interpersonal factors such as our work/study schedules, shift work, and caretaking responsibilities also play a role. In addition to this, taking naps close to bedtime, jet lag, what and when you eat, a lack of activity throughout the day, watching the clock and using your bed for activities other than sleep and sex can constitute poor sleep hygiene.

The number of potential barriers to a good night’s sleep may be overwhelming, but they also mean that there are a lot of practical areas you can target to improve your sleep. Consciously factoring sleep into your daily schedule can be one of the first steps. Sleep is not wasted time – it is an investment in your mental and physical well-being, and your productivity the next day. Going to sleep and waking up at the same time every day can improve your ability to fall asleep and the quality of sleep. Similarly, balancing competing demands from your work/study/family, as well as regularly eating and eating healthily can improve general health and sleep. This is not to say that we can’t ever have chocolate, just that your diet should be balanced, and certain heavy foods should be avoided directly before bedtime.

Exercise can also be a useful way to improve sleep. This should be undertaken during the day, and not directly before sleep. Aerobic exercise releases endorphins that keep the brain awake. However, 2 hours following exercise, our core body temperatures drop, which can signal to the brain that it is time to sleep. Exercise has significant benefits beyond sleep, including improving general health and fitness, and often improving the symptoms of some mental health conditions such as depression.

Small changes such as ensuring your bedroom is quiet, dark, and at a comfortable temperature can also assist sleep. Similarly, electronic devices and white lights should be avoided before bed.

Sometimes, a barrier to sleep cannot be managed and overcome, such as having a profession that requires regular shiftwork. In these cases, it is best to target other aspects of our lives and sleeping patterns that can be changed. By working around the immovable barriers and targeting other things, our overall sleep can still be improved.

Not every barrier will be relevant to you, but if you are having difficulty with your sleep or your energy levels throughout the day, it may be helpful to consider what achievable changes you can make to improve your wellbeing.

We hope that you have found this post interesting and useful. For more information, feel free to check out some of our sources:

Next week we will be taking a look at burnout – what it is and how to know if you are experiencing it.

Wishing you a wonderful week,

TCS Team

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