World sleep day falls on the 16th March this year. We wanted to take this opportunity to explain what sleep is and highlight the benefits of sleep.
Sleep is very important for the body; it allows the body to rest and recover. Although scientists are not entirely sure why we sleep, there is very strong evidence behind the link between sleep and health. Sleep is such a big part of our life. The average person spends around a third of their life asleep. In this time, our bodies are able to replenish energy stores and make repairs, while our minds organise and store the memories of the day before.
The perfect sleep
There is no perfect amount of sleep, although it is generally recommended to have between 7-9 hours of sleep per night, but it really just depends on what feels natural to you. It is important that you concentrate on the quality of your sleep rather than the quantity. It is important to wake up refreshed, and not feel tired constantly. Going without sleep for too long or having poor quality sleep make us feel terrible, yet a good night's sleep can make us feel ready to take on the world!
The sleep cycle
Sleep is prompted by natural cycles of activity in the brain and consists of two basic states: rapid eye movement (REM) sleep and non-rapid eye movement (NREM) sleep, which consists of stages 1 to 4.
When we first fall asleep we enter non-rapid eye movement sleep (NREM). This is divided into three stages, with each becoming progressively deeper. NREM1 and NREM2 are light phases of sleep, from which we can be easily roused. NREM3 becomes deeper, and if woken up, we can feel disorientated. Following on from this is rapid eye movement sleep (REM), the stage at which we dream.
It is important to note that during the deep stages of NREM sleep, the body repairs and regenerates tissues, builds bone and muscle, and appears to strengthen the immune system.
Ideally, our circadian rhythm will climb in the morning and make us feel alert and refreshed. It then peaks in the evening, and after being awake for around 15 hours, we will feel the pressure to sleep again. As the night draws in, our circadian rhythm drops to its lowest level, and we are able to close our eyes and fall asleep.
Although we know the cycles of sleep and can monitor certain activities in the brain during sleep, we are still unaware of one single fact: why do we sleep in the first place? Unfortunately, we have no answer for this, however, it is thought to be an evolutionary process. Scientists have, however, discovered that sleep plays a critical role in immune function, metabolism, memory, learning, and other vital functions.
If you are having difficulty sleeping or want to have better quality sleep, here are four tips that you can try:
A regular routine
Our bodies love routine and sleep is no exception! Having a regular sleeping pattern will programme your brain and will set your internal body clock. By a sleeping pattern, we mean going to sleep around the same time every night and having the same amount of sleep every day.
Winding down will help you relax and prepare you for bed. You can take a warm bath, do some light yoga, read a book or listen to some music. Whatever suits your boat!
Going easy on the caffeine
Try to avoid caffeine too close to bed time as this can keep you awake at night. Caffeinated drinks will include some teas and coffee.
Having a sleep friendly environment
Your bedroom needs to be the area in your house where you can wind down, relax and ultimately sleep. You must therefore avoid doing work to prevent that association in your brain.
Try keep your bedroom dark, quiet, warm and tidy.
TV’s and gadgets can have a negative effect on you sleep pattern as the lights can interfere with our brain activity.
If you have any further questions about sleep, please visit your GP or speak to one of our pharmacists for advice.