“Prioritise it (but don’t worry about it)”

We spend around a third of our life asleep. Sleep is part of living. If sleep was not important it would be one of the greatest mistakes in our evolution. Sleep is the time when the body’s repair and recovery systems really come to life. Sleep supports the smooth running of the body and in maintaining homeostasis, including the healthy balance in the body’s hormones and metabolic processes. A good night’s sleep sets us up to be more alert and productive the following day.

In our modern world there is much that may unhelpfully affect our sleep, leading to inadequate sleep. Over time inadequate sleep (less than 7 hours per night) may have an impact throughout our body, including on our cardiovascular, endocrine (hormone), immune, and nervous systems.

Sleep restriction results in metabolic and endocrine alterations, including decreased glucose tolerance, decreased insulin sensitivity, increased evening concentrations of cortisol, increased levels of ghrelin, decreased levels of leptin and increased hunger and appetite.

We should prioritise sleep, though we should not worry about it since worry might stop us sleeping.

The Health Results Sleep Levers are:
  • Timing
  • Wind down
  • Daytime lifestyle
  • Sleep space

Sleep timing considers the number of hours we sleep, together with the timings of when we fall asleep and wake up. There are three key time focused factors to optimise sleep timing:
  • allowing the opportunity for 7 to 9 hours of sleep
  • aiming to go to sleep at approximately the same time every day
  • aiming to wake up at approximately the same time every day

Available research highlights the importance of consistent sleep timing for health. A regular sleep timing routine can assist us in achieving an adequate amount of sleep.

Our body also follows a circadian rhythm with its 24 hour internal body clock.

There are multiple hormonal fluctuations in our body that occur in our body over a 24-hour period. This includes the hormones cortisol and insulin which influence fuel release and storage. Cortisol, which causes fuel to be liberated from body stores, rises at approximately the time we are due to awake, providing us with plentiful fuel to start the day. Conversely insulin tends to peak in the later afternoon and early evening, driving fuel storage. Ensuring our sleep pattern aligns with these hormonal fluctuations can help to optimise our metabolic health.

Waking up naturally without an alarm and feeling refreshed is an indication that we have had adequate sleep and our sleep pattern is aligned with our body clock. Getting to bed at a time to allow adequate sleep is essential.

We probably know the amount of sleep we need to wake up refreshed. The average adult requires 7 to 9 hours of sleep, though for some people 6 hours may be adequate and for others 10 hours may be needed.

By knowing the time we need to be awake and the approximate amount of sleep we need, we can determine our bed time.

Wind down
The wind down period refers to the 30 to 60 minute period prior to going to bed. During this period the focus is on routines and active support sleep, and minimise activities that create stress and alertness.

Daytime lifestyle
A good sleep is supported by what we do in our day. Getting into daylight early in the morning helps to set our body clock.

Exercise earlier in the day can help our sleep quality. Very strenuous exercise just before bed can have the opposite effect.
Our food and drink can have a significant affect on our sleep. Large meals, alcohol, and caffeine late in the day can have a very significant negative impact on our sleep quality and quantity.

Improving our metabolic health can often improve our sleep. Weight loss associated with improved metabolic health can reduce snoring and a condition called sleep apnoea. In addition better metabolic health will ensure there is no hunger in the evening or the middle of the night.

Sleep space
Setting your bedroom up for good quality sleep includes making the room dark and a temperature of around 18C.

Screens and mobile phones are a common problem. Not only the light from the screen, but also the impulsive use of the phone can impact on sleep. Consider leaving mobile phones out of the bedroom, or at least out of reach.