In our busy world of work and school, it can be hard at times for anyone to get substantial sleep and maintain a healthy sleeping schedule. Especially as we continue to find ourselves navigating these unprecedented times, stress and worry may also impact the way we rest. It is important to understand how sleep works, and how sufficient sleep can benefit your health, all the while trying your best to avoid continuous sleep deprivation, which can have long-term consequences on your health and wellbeing.
Within the human body, a number of functions and processes rely on an internal 24-hour clock cycle, called circadian rhythms. These are responsible for a number of things such as temperature and hormone release cycles in the body, and are run by a cluster of about 20,000 neurons called the suprachiasmatic nucleus (SCN). The sleep-wake cycle is another example, and arguably the most well known of the circadian rhythms. The sleep-wake cycle works by responding to outside stimuli, such as light. During morning time when it becomes light outside, these neurons release the hormone cortisol which makes you feel awake and ready for the day. As the sun begins to go down, your body will instead release the hormone melatonin from the pineal gland, which induces tiredness and reduces alertness signalling that it is time for sleep.
Other factors that can affect your sleep-wake cycle include food intake, physical activity, social interaction and body temperature.
The specific timings of this cycle also vary throughout your lifetime. This is why younger people get the reputation of staying up late and sleeping in, whereas you may find yourself waking up much earlier in your older years. This is all due to the sleep-wake circadian rhythm. Finding the hours that you should be sleeping that will guarantee you are well rested can benefit your health immensely.
Improving Your Sleeping Schedule
Struggling with sleep can be frustrating and quite literally, exhausting. Making the right choices to improve your sleep may sound difficult but are in reality, only small changes to your daily routine. A huge step you can take to get to sleep with ease is to turn off, and stop using any electronic devices at least 30 minutes before you plan on going to bed.
The light emitted from electronics stimulates alertness in your brain, and can make falling asleep much more difficult. This can be further exacerbated by certain content. For example, reading about current events or dealing with work before bed may leave you feeling stressed and thus, even less inclined to doze off.
Another helpful habit to develop is setting yourself a strict bedtime that will ensure you get at least 7 hours of sleep. This will not only encourage more of a routine surrounding your sleep, but also make sure that you feel rested during the day. This bedtime can also act as a guide for when you should stop drinking caffeine and eating big meals, which are both other activities that can make sleeping tough.
If you are experiencing a prolonged difficulty falling asleep, it may be beneficial to try melatonin gummies or chewables that are available to buy at the pharmacy. This is a great natural way to make yourself feel more tired at night, and fall asleep more easily. It is important to consult your doctor to make sure this is a safe option for you.
As a result of ageing, it is common for the sleep-wake cycle to become more irregular. However, there are a number of things you can do which can reverse this change in sleep cycle. For example, you may find it helps you to sleep better if you go to sleep and wake up at the same time everyday. In addition, to help feel more awake during the day and sleepy at night, complete small exercises earlier in the day.
The Direct Effects of Sleep on Your Health
The way in which you sleep can have both positive and negative effects on your health. The benefits of sleeping will go beyond the short-term advantage of feeling awake during the day. Getting plenty of sleep can actually boost your immune system. When you don’t get enough sleep, your body produces fewer cytokines, which are proteins in your body that help fight infections by producing an immune response. Cytokines are produced and released during periods of sleep, meaning getting more sleep may therefore contribute to lessening the likelihood of catching the common cold or the flu, and will increase your overall immune functioning. Efficient sleep also reduces the risk of diabetes. Sleeping affects the levels of insulin in your body, a hormone that controls blood sugar levels. Getting enough sleep can help to keep your blood sugar levels in a healthy range, lowering the risk of type 2 diabetes. What’s more is that sleeping reduces the levels of the hormone ghrelin and increases the levels of the hormone leptin in the body. Ghrelin is responsible for signalling to your body the feeling of hunger, whereas leptin signals feelings of fullness. This means that getting a better night sleep can aid in eating fewer calories and weight loss.
By contrast, a lack of sleep can easily lead to fatigue and trouble focusing throughout the day, and can leave you feeling grumpy or in a foul mood. Missing a night or two of perfect sleep is never good, but if this sleep deprivation persists, you may experience more serious consequences.
A prolonged lack of sleep, whether it be due to personal life circumstances or a chronic sleep disorder, can severely impair one’s ability to do certain things throughout the day. For instance, not sleeping enough can lead to weakened balance and coordination skills which can result in physical accidents. This can become especially dangerous as it pertains to tasks such as driving a car or operating other machinery which can seriously increase your risk of injury. A chronic lack of sleep can also have serious implications on your mental health. Not getting enough sleep for long periods of time has been shown to lead to long term issues such as anxiety and depression. Furthermore, not getting enough sleep can also worsen both short term and long term memory and result in a rise in blood pressure, which increases the risk of heart disease.
It is vital that everyone gets enough rest in order to remain happy, healthy, and productive. Figuring out the best ways for you to be getting the best sleep you can may take time, but it is far from impossible, and never too late to make improvements for your benefit!