Sleep is essential for physical, mental and emotional health. The negative effects from lack of sleep are linked to a range of conditions from weight gain and obesity through to neurological disorders.
For some, enjoying a peaceful, undisturbed sleep is part of their healthy routine and they wake feeling refreshed and ready to start the day.
But for others, the experience is the opposite. A study in the US found that as much as one-third of American adults do not enjoy sufficient and regular sleep. This can lead to a reduction in overall health, compromised daily functioning and mood swings.
Most of us don’t really know what happens during sleep and why it’s so vital to our health and wellbeing. Today’s fast-paced world can see us become trapped in a cycle of staying up late, rising early, and not prioritising sleep and rest.
What happens when we sleep?
Sleep is governed by our circadian rhythms – which are like a biological clock in the brain. The sleep-inducing hormone melatonin is released when the brain senses that the intensity of light is reducing. Melatonin levels rise as night and reduce again once we sense light, which, according to biology, would be at daybreak.
When asleep, our brain goes through different cycles. There are 4 cycles that ebb and flow in a regulated way throughout a night’s sleep:
- The first stage of falling to sleep from being awake
- The second stage of light sleep
- The third and fourth stages of deep sleep.
Research indicates sleep is essential for maintaining healthy brain plasticity, helping us process and remember things we learn and experience during the day. It is also important for repairing and restoring the body, replacing those cellular components used heavily during waking hours.
Sleep is an essential part of the 24-hour biology that governs the wake/sleep cycle. By nature, we want to sleep once the daylight ends and night begins, and then wake again at sunrise (or soon before).
However, with modern lives becoming more complex and busier, we often remain awake well into the night and/or are surrounded by artificial light, all of which confuse our circadian rhythms.
This means many of us could be missing out on getting the full night’s rest and restoration, where we are then pushing through days feeling washed-out or getting into the habit of daytime naps.
Is all sleep the same?
As sleep at night is in synchronicity with our circadian rhythms, including important metabolic functions, and is supported by the release of the sleep hormone melatonin, among other biological functions, it is associated with biological health.
When we sleep during the day, the circadian rhythms can alter, becoming arrhythmic. These changes in biological rhythms can disrupt the metabolism and immune functions and effect inflammatory and stress responses. Sleeping during the day can also be a sign of sleep deprivation.
What promotes healthy sleep?
As sleep is aligned to our biological clock, maintaining a consistent routine is one of the most effective ways to support healthy sleep patterns.
The environment in which we sleep plays a part. It’s recommended to keep the room dark and at a comfortable room temperature. Having an indoor plant in the bedroom will also help with air quality while sleeping.
What we do during the day also affects our sleep. By achieving the recommended amount of daily exercise and enjoying physical activity throughout the day, you may feel less fatigued later in the day and reduce the needs for napping before you are due for your evening sleep. Learn more about ways to be physically active in our recent story here.
What prevents healthy sleep?
How we feel during the day is often a sign we may not be in a healthy sleep pattern. Not getting adequate rest and replenishment each night can lead to sleep deprivation and drowsiness throughout the day.
Such signs of sleep deprivation may include sleeping during the day when reading, driving, riding on transport or sitting for a rest. Signs will vary from person to person.
Sleeping at the wrong time of the day can affect a healthy sleep pattern. It can lead to chronic health problems like heart disease, kidney disease, high blood pressure, stroke and depression – all of which can then affect a healthy sleep routine. It can be a vicious cycle of reduced health and reduced healthy sleep.
Our daily routines greatly influence our evening sleep, from the food we eat, the exercise or activity we do, and the amount of stress and mental exertion we experience.
Sleep is complex, and many specialists agree it’s mysterious as to why we need such regular night time sleep.
If your sleep pattern is irregular or you struggle to get a restful night’s sleep, medical attention is strongly recommended.
3 things you can try to improve your sleep
- Try to avoid eating a heavy meal and/or drinking caffeine before bed. A cup of warmed milk (even with a little honey, cinnamon and turmeric) can help settle digestion and prepare the body for sleep in place of more stimulating options.
- Wind down 2 hours before your bedtime, including preventing (or reducing) screen time; using lower lighting such as turning off unnecessary bright lights and maintaining adequate light with lamps.
- Be in bed, ready for sleep before 10pm, with the room nice and quiet, your TV off and mobile phones away.
A sleep diary can be useful for monitoring patterns and behaviours. Good things to note in a sleep diary include the time you go to sleep, the time you rise, the quality of sleep and how you feel on waking. You can also record other details like key things you may have done during the day, or foods you have eaten, including caffeine and alcohol intake, as relevant factors that could be influencing your sleep habits.
If you have disturbed or disruptive sleep, it’s important to seek medical advice. Your Pearl carer is there to help and understands how ageing and changes to your health can affect sleep. They can work with you to determine any factors that may be affecting you obtaining regular and restful sleep.
Creating a plan with your Pearl carer is a positive first step in shaping a more healthy night’s sleep. If medical attention is required, they will assist you to find the most suitable support.
To arrange some extra assistance around the home, contact your nearest Pearl Home Care office for a no obligation discussion.