The Importance of Sleep

with Nutritionist Danielle Minnebo

People often underestimate the importance of getting a good night sleep. Wellbeing is not only impacted by what we put in our mouths and how we move, but it’s also influenced by how much sleep we get each night and the quality of this sleep.

What are the effects of chronic sleep deprivation?

  • Increased appetite and weight gain: Studies have shown consistently that getting 5 hours or less of sleep a night results in weight gain. Studies have also shown that people with sleep problems, such as having trouble falling asleep, waking frequently during the night and having trouble staying asleep, are also more susceptible to gaining weight.
  • Inflammation: Chronic lack of sleep increases the release of inflammatory markers in the body, such as C-reactive protein, eicosanoids and prostaglandins. Elevated C-reactive protein increases our risk for cardiovascular disease, stroke and diabetes.
  • Mental focus and attention: Chronic sleep deprivation affects our psychomotor function, memory retrieval, productivity and ability to focus and pay attention.
  • Affects your blood pressure: Consistently getting less than 6 hours of sleep a night increases your blood pressure. For example one review found that women who sleep less than 5-6 hours nightly are at greater risk of developing high blood pressure.
  • Affects our immune function: Lastly, chronic sleep deprivation reduces our immune function and makes us more susceptible to infections. One study found shift workers reported more infections than day workers who received 8 hours of sleep each night.

How many hours of sleep should we be getting each night?

This can be a hard question to answer, yes ensuring a good night sleep is important, but putting a number on this can be a challenge, as individuals can be very different. As a general rule I recommend 8-9 hours of sleep each night, at a minimum 7 hours a night. It is important that you receive these hours of sleep each single night. Catching up on sleep over the weekend has shown to not negate the effects of not getting enough sleep during the week.

How can we improve the quality of our sleep?

Simply going to bed, closing our eyes and drifting of to sleep often isn’t enough to ensure we get a good night sleep or even that we’ll fall asleep. There are a number of different things you can do to make sure you have a restful night sleep and most of these things have to do with encouraging the release of melatonin, which is our sleep hormone. It ensures we fall asleep easily, stay asleep and wake feeling rested.

  • Remove your computer, laptop and TV from the bedroom. Create an environment that is purely for sleeping.
  • Switch your mobile phone to flight mode. Your mobile phone releases electromagnetic fields or EMF, which disturbs melatonin production.
  • Make sure your room is completely dark and there is no light coming in from outside. Studies have shown that even the smallest amount of light can reduce the production of melatonin by the brain. Also ensure it’s a cool room as that ensures a more restful sleep.
  • Don’t use your laptop, computer or watch TV 1 hour before bed. The blue light released from these appliances reduces the production of melatonin in the brain.
  • No caffeine after lunch and certainly not just before bed. Caffeine triggers the release of cortisol, which is a stress hormone that is naturally low towards the end of the day. Cortisol interferes with melatonin production and reduces its conversion from serotonin.
  • Avoid eating just before bedtime; instead eat no later than 2 hours before bed. Ensure you have a meal that contains enough protein, good fats and carbohydrates, this will ensure your blood sugar levels remain steady throughout the night and you don’t wake early in the morning due to hunger. Try and avoid sugary foods before bed, such as chocolate, cake or ice cream. These will cause your blood sugar levels to rise dramatically and also crash dramatically. This can result in a restless night sleep and again waking early due to hunger.
  • Dim the lighting 2 hours before bed if this is possible. Due to electricity and lighting we have created eternal daylight. Our bodies are no longer able to properly listen to their evolutionary signals of the sun rising and setting, we turn on all the bright lights as soon as the sun has set. We can reduce the effects of this by dimming light towards the end of the evening and using lights that are lower to the ground, this tells our bodies that night is approaching and to prepare for sleep.

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