Sleep, fundamental to health and wellbeing…
Why is sleep so important to our health?
Sleep plays a crucial role in our health and wellbeing. A lack of sleep has been associated with a wide range of negative health consequences including cardiovascular problems, a weakened immune system, higher risk of obesity, type II diabetes and mental health problems like depression and anxiety. Our performance is also negatively impacted. Our ability to concentrate, learn and stay motivated reduces. Sleep plays an important role in recuperation of the body as well as effective thinking and memory.
Studies demonstrate that sleep is an incredibly complex process that is still not fully understood. It involves multiple parts of the brain to regulate hormones and chemicals that control sleep and wakefulness. Research suggests that sleep is very much related to aspects of our physical, emotional and mental health. And what is clear is that it has effects on virtually every system in the body e.g. nervous, immune, endocrine and digestive systems, etc
What stops us getting enough sleep?
People don’t get enough sleep for a variety of reasons. Staying up too late and getting up too early in the morning is common place for many people. Drinking too much coffee to get us going in the morning or drinking too much alcohol to relax at night. Sleeping problems can also be associated with some health problems so it’s always worth checking with your doctor if you are having trouble getting off to sleep or are having enough sleep but are still feeling tired. The right amount of sleep varies from person to person, if you are stressed, ill or working hard, you need more. The key is consistency and getting enough rest every night.
How can we get more sleep?
The National Sleep Foundation have provided some useful advice: have a bedtime routine, relax in the last hour or two before bedtime, stop eating, particularly chocolate, drinking coffee, alcohol, exercising. Make sure the environment in your bedroom supports your sleep.
Yoga practices such as mindfulness, relaxation, visualisation, and meditation help activate the parasympathetic side of the nervous system, the “rest and digest”, relaxed response. Thus switching off the stress response and associated stress hormones. As such, these treatments may provide long-term benefits over and above short-term improvement in reported sleep quality, e.g. strengthening your immune system, improving digestion and balancing your hormones. From: Hyperarousal and insomnia, Bonnet MH & Arand DL, Sleep Medicine Reviews 1:97-108, 1997, Heart rate variability in insomniacs and matched normal sleepers, Bonnet MH & Arand DL, Psychosomatic Medicine 60:610-615, 1998.
- Try tuning into your breath and really experiencing it, just watching your easy relaxed rhythm. Perhaps notice where you feel it move your body, where it dominates, and originates from and how it feels.
- Progressively relax every part of your body, starting at your feet and working up your body. This can be done half an hour before going to bed.