A vital ingredient in the recipe for a healthy lifestyle is sleep. It’s the one thing that we all too easily scrimp on and yet it plays a major role in how we feel, affecting our ability to function properly and our cognitive awareness.
Regular sleep is necessary for survival and it appears that the type of sleep we enjoy each night, a consistency in sleep and waking times along with the number of hours that we sleep all play a major role in our body’s response to sleep.
Types of Sleep
Sleep is supported by natural cycles of activities by the brain. Scientists use the measurement of eye movement when we sleep to determine the ‘type’ of sleep that we have and this is separated into two main types:
- Rapid Eye Movement (REM) – here the brain is active and the body inactive. This is the when we dream most and we lose skeletal muscle tone.
- Non-Rapid Eye Movement (NREM) – this is the opposite ie, the brain is inactive and our body active. Limb movements and sleep walking are done during this cycle.
Sleep proceeds in cycles of REM and NREM phases, each lasting approx 90 minutes and each with a distinct physiological function. This cycle continues throughout the night, alternating between REM than NREM.
It’s believed that the younger you are, the more REM sleep you enjoy and this is reduced as you get older. It’s important for infants to have this REM sleep since it is during this time that they go through neural stimulation, which matures their neural connections.
Alcohol and sleep
Anyone who’s had one too many will know that you fall asleep quickly but then can wake up during the night. This is because alcohol shortens the time it takes to fall asleep, increases deep sleep and reduces REM sleep1, that satisfying cycle of sleep, leaving you feeling un-refreshed on waking.
Not having enough sleep
Otherwise known as sleep deprivation, not having enough sleep can adversely affect the brain and cognitive function. One night of this can sometimes be all that’s needed to make you feel ‘not quite with it’ the next day and can hugely affect your attention, memory and make you feel fatigued. This is especially important if you’re planning to drive – have you ever driven somewhere the morning after the night before, arrived at your destination and can’t really quite remember how you got there? Not having enough sleep can have a major impact on your ability to function properly.
With prolonged sleep deprivation, microsleeps occur. This is where the person seemingly ‘blacksout’ ie they simply fall asleep without realising and cannot control it or are aware of it.
Did you know that sleep can affect your weight?
Recent studies2 have linked a consistent sleep pattern (sleeping and waking times plus hours of sleep) to lower body fat. Those that slept for between 8 to 8 ½ hours per night with a set time of going to bed and waking up (with no more than a 60 minute time variance) had the lowest body fat. This is because sleep greatly affects our physiology and interrupting our body’s internal clock will affect its functioning.
Why do we sleep?
There’s ongoing research as to the reason for sleep but it is thought that sleep is vital for memory consolidation. During the early stages of sleep, cellular energy replenishes brain processes that are needed to function normally during waking.
Recent studies on mice show3 that when we sleep the space between brain cells increase, allowing the brain to cleanse itself or flush out toxins that have built up. I suppose that refreshed feeling after a good sleep is witness to this. Lack of sleep can leave you feeling ‘groggy’ and as though you’re functioning outside of yourself. Good quality sleep is as vital for adults as it is for children. We all need to start the day feeling refreshed and with a clear mind, able to tackle what comes along. This can only be achieved through sufficient sleep (and the all important balanced, varied diet).
Setting the scene for quality sleep
It’s generally believed that we should refrain from using ipads and computers for a few hours before going to bed since these over stimulate the brain, making it harder to fall asleep. Some, also, believe that electronic equipment has no place in bedrooms, which should only be used for sleeping if you want to achieve quality sleep.
Getting the balance right
Lots of us talk about following a healthy lifestyle, which includes eating organic foods and plenty of exercise but don’t forget that a good night’s sleep is of equal importance. We need to ensure we strike the right balance to maintain a healthy body and mind.
Eat healthily, exercise regularly and sleep well.
About Lucy Bee Limited
Lucy Bee is concerned with Fair Trade, ethical and sustainable living, recycling and eating close to nature with additive free products for health.
Members of the Lucy Bee team are not medically trained and can only offer their best advice. Any information provided by us is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent disease.
Please note you should always refer your health queries to a qualified medical practioner.