Sleep - A Key Part Of Health


Sleep is a hugely important part of the health jigsaw. In fact, it is the basis upon which everything else you do is built. If you are low on sleep, or your sleep is poor quality, the effects of the effort you make to improve your health won’t be as good as they could be.

Sleep is becoming more talked about and the true importance is becoming more recognised as we start to understand the true need for sleep.

Did you know, for example, that if you are low on sleep (averaging 6 hours or less a night) and working to lose weight, that the percentage of weight you lose from your fat stores is reduced; around 70% of the weight you lose will be muscle rather than fat.

There is some debate about whether there truly are such things as morning larks and night owls, and if there is, the difference is even less than an hour. Taking people ‘back to nature’ and following the natural light:dark cycles of the day puts everyone in the same wake:sleep rhythm within three days.

So, how can we optimise our sleep? It all comes down to the environment we create and our behaviours.

First up, a good nights sleep starts as soon as you get up in the morning. Daylight is one of the biggest cues for your system so make sure to get at least half an hour of daylight before noon – this is the bare minimum which has been shown to promote night time sleep.

Continue your quest for the right amount of light by dimming the lights and reducing your exposure to blue light a good couple of hours before bed. This mostly means turn off your computer and phone screens, but the TV screen may also affect you. The less natural light you get in the day time, the more the blue light will affect you in the evening.

Food is the other massive cue for our systems. Aim to eat most of your calories earlier in the day – start with a protein rich breakfast (when you’re hungry is fine, you don’t need to rush to eat as soon as you get up) and try to keep your evening meal as early as possible. Before 6pm is ideal, after 8pm is really too late. This is pretty tricky for a lot of us, so if you have no real choice but to eat late, try to keep the meal as light as possible.

Perhaps an obvious one, but stop drinking caffeine by 3pm at the absolute latest. Even if you don’t notice it stopping you get to sleep at night, it will be affecting the quality of your sleep.

Likewise, a glass of wine (or any alcohol) at the end of the day might make you feel calm and sleepy, but it will be affecting your sleep cycles. Perhaps try something else to help you wind down – read a book or just slow the day down and dim the lights a couple of hours before bed.

I hope these give you a few practical ideas for improving your sleep. Give them a try and make sleep a priority for the next month, and see how your body rewards you.

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