Yes you heard me right! In fact, I'm going to go as far as saying that any activity preformed in a bed really should have some form of foreplay.
Sleep, it is something that eludes so many, myself included. Sleep in the past has been seen as a bit of a luxury item, something that the lucky get to indulge in, and the busy miss out on. Unfortunately for the latter, the more we discover about sleep the more we understand it is a major contributor to good health. More and more research is now finding that sleep is connected to many health parameters including; weight gain, over eating, food cravings, fat retention, energy levels, stress, mood and a whole list of diseases. So it seems, as sleep becomes more important to our health we are strangely finding it harder to get good quality sleep.
I am someone who absolutely loves sleep! I am definitely the grandma of my household and have even gone to the lengths of wearing blue light blocking glasses to reduce the amount of wakeful stimulation I get and induce melatonin production (the hormone that induces sleep). I have read various articles, books and indulged in many podcasts about sleep only to really understand that it is possibly the most important aspect of our health, possibly even more important than diet and exercise. But how can this be possible?
What benefits does sleep have? Let me explain...
As you may already know sleep is a necessary life process. It is a time where your body can relax and repair while your brain shuffles through all the information it took in that day and process it. Sleep is where a lot of memory processes occur so if you don’t get good quality sleep you may find your self being very forgetful and ‘scatter brained’ during your day. This is also why when you have a big exam coming up you really shouldn't forgo sleep. During a research study, students that studied before having 8hrs of sleep had better test results by 40%, compared to other students that stayed up all night cramming (Matthew Walker - 'Why we sleep').
Recovery Now I mentioned that sleep is your body’s time to rest and repair. During sleep any cells that have been damaged will produce more protein molecules. Protein is a building block of cells and with more flooded through the body, cells can use these proteins to repair. Without good quality sleep your body will take longer to restore itself. Whether you are sick, have just completed a solid workout or your body is keeping up its normal function, sleep is needed to fix any damaged cells.
Stress More and more stress seeps into our lives and in that environment more disease and illness occur (more stress generally means less rest leading to less repairing and more damage). While you are sleeping or in a deep state of relaxation, cortisol, your stress hormone is not a readily produced. This means that rather than your body being in fight or flight mode it can be in rest and digest. Not only does this have many good flow on effects for your health but it can simply improve your mood from one of frantic and easily irritated to calm, happy and grateful.
If you are trying to lose weight then cortisol and, in hand, stress are your greatest foes. As I mentioned above cortisol is released when the body is stressed, this hormone dictates where energy should be distributed and if you are in a fight or flight mode you are essentially telling your body that there is danger. Maybe a car almost ran you over, maybe you have a deadline you need to meet, maybe your email inbox is full. No matter what the cause of stress is, your body reacts the same way, the same way it would have if you were trying to outrun a predator or if you were in a time of famine. Your body does its best to help you survive, so in stressful times it will store as much energy as it can. Do you know what stored energy is better know as? Fat. Therefore, more sleep means less cortisol production which means less fat retention. This process is actually really complicated and intertwined with cravings and over eating, but that story is for another blog post.
Poor quality and quantity of sleep has been found to be a strong indicator of many serious diseases. Sleep is said to be good for your heart as it lowers blood pressure. It lowers your chance of having type 2 diabetes as it changes the way your body metabolises glucose. While asleep your body makes a bunch of different proteins to assist in fighting off infection while also lowering levels of inflammation. Lowering inflammation levels is a huge one as it really is the fire starter to many life threatening diseases. Research also shows that too little sleep is associated with a shorter life span! It is not yet known the specifics of this correlation but I'm not going to chance a healthy long life over a few hours up late at night.
So as you have probably gathered, sleep works in many different ways to combat many different areas of health. In fact sleep has been described in the past as a miracle drug. One that makes you live longer, enhances memory and creativity while lowering food cravings and weight gain. Sleep keeps you slimmer and more attractive. Sleep also protects from many diseases from the flu to cancer and Alzheimer's. It lowers risks of heart attacks, stroke and diabetes all while leaving you feeling more happy and less depressed and anxious.
Sounds like a dream right!
So how do you get more quality sleep? I know and hear from many people who find it difficult to get their recommended 8hrs of sleep (this is really how long you should be aiming for), and to those I recommend a shift in priority and routine. While I would consider myself a better sleeper than many, these changes in my nightly routine have really improved my sleep quantity and quality, meaning I have more energy, and I am happier and healthier.
Consistent bed time
Go to bed and wake up at the same time. By doing this your body can get into a space where it knows when it should be slowing down and waking up. This not only means that you will be tired around your bed time but that you will not be shocked awake by your alarm clock in the morning. This is a change that needs some consistency to work so play around with what times will work for you and really try to stick to it for 4 weeks.
As I mentioned before, I got to the extent of wearing blue light blocking glasses before bed, this is because blue light messes with your circadian rhythms (your internal clock that produces wakeful and sleepy hormones). During the night time, guess where the most amount of blue light comes from... you got it, your devices, be it your smart phone, computer or TV. No wonder you find it hard to sleep, if right before bed you are scrolling through Instagram. Try to switch off all devices at least an hour before bed. Use this time to create a winding down routine that will allow you to easily slip into sleep.
In the hour before bed that you now have free of devices, do some things that not only prepares your body for sleep but also your mind. There are a whole list of things that you could do, here are some that I love. Sip on a cup of tea, brush your teeth, have a hot relaxing shower or bath, change into pyjamas, read a book, meditate or do some journaling. I really love journaling at the end of the day as it gets all those crazy niggling thoughts out of my mind and leaves me in a grateful mind frame right before bed.
As I mentioned earlier your circadian rhythm is really important. When you wake up in the morning spend a little time in the sun, whether it is looking out your window, meditating in the park or while you walk to work. Getting some sun exposure not only has a great effect on your mood for the day but it also works to reset your circadian rhythm so hopefully by the end of the day you are feeling tired and ready for bed.
By creating a routine for sleep, or what I like to call sleep foreplay, you are actively telling your body it is time for bed and are allowing not only your body but also your mind to relax and calm down creating a basis for better, more restful sleep. Now some of these things I mentioned may not work or resonate with you. Your body and your sleep are both unique to you so you may need to take some of these suggestions and tailor them to suit you and your lifestyle. Create habits that you can be consistent with and that serve you, sleep really is a restful experience so don't push yourself to fit anyone else's model.
Sweet dreams my lovelies.