About sleep and why we need to get the best of it

It took me almost 40 years of life to understand how beautiful and important good sleep is. I am not being dramatic, it’s true. I used to run on fumes, as they say. Little sleep, up and at it all day long, and for many years. Not sustainable and increasingly tiring as time went on.

I cherish sleep more than I ever have, for a few reasons, which you might relate to:

  1. Middle age (or getting close to it) often comes with internal sleep disturbances, which makes for a crappy next day with weird food cravings and fluctuating energy levels. Not fun.
  2. Life piles up a few extras when we get closer to the said life stage, so often when stress shoots up, the brain becomes a vexing merry-go-round not just at bedtime but in the middle of the night too. Ditto: not fun.
  3. BUT… when good sleep happens, it’s like a new lease on life. You feel fresh, mind sharp as ever and you’re more inclined to make healthy food choices and be physically active.

Research back that up all the way

Firstly, if you’ve read my e-book, or at least the chapter on sleep, you know that when we sleep, our brains get a cleansing, courtesy of the glymphatic system. This helps reduce various metabolic by-products, including beta amyloid and tau, the two proteins associated with Alzheimer’s disease (the most common form of dementia). If nothing else, that should be reason enough to get good sleep.

Liver loves good sleep too

New research showed that later bedtime and daytime napping (sorry!) carry a higher risk of developing non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD), which is a serious risk factor for liver cancer and type 2 diabetes. The study also pointed to snoring as another risk factor (aside from late bedtime and napping), which I guess has to do with sleep quality. Less deep and restoring sleep messes up hunger hormones, which amplifies cravings (not for green leafy veggies, by the way, but for high-calorie, lower-nutrition foods).

That’s only part of the story

Losing an hour and a half of sleep consistently can impact immune function, increase inflammation, and also increase the risk of cardiovascular disease. All of these are associated with aging (independent of other factors) so why add to it? While sleep research is ongoing, it’s worth bringing up an uncomfortable fact: weekend sleep-ins will not fully undo the damage of daily lesser quality sleep and/or duration.

Make room for good sleep

Given that we spend roughly one third of our lives sleeping, it’s essential to learn what diminishes the quality of it.

  • Take light, and especially blue light at night, and in general lots of lighting at all hours of the day. One thing about lights and sleep (yes, there is a study on that): turn them off at night. This long-term study concluded that exposure to any amount of light during sleeping at night was associated with higher incidence of obesity, high blood pressure and type 2 diabetes. While you’re at it, stay away from computer and phone screens at least one hour before bed.
  • Have dinner at least two to three hours before bedtime three and do the same for your choice of fluids. This will allow your body to ‘focus’ on settling down before sleep, engaging your parasympathetic nervous system.
  • Enjoy a calming and digestion-supportive tea such as peppermint, lemon balm, chamomile or lavender, but skip the alcohol – it may induce sleep initially, but it will affect the quality of your sleep.
  • Other ways to enable good sleep: take a hot bath or shower before you go to bed and lower the temperature to a cool 18 or 19 degrees Celsius. Also, if you have trouble falling asleep, stick your hands and/or feet out from under the cover. Before you know it, you’ll be in dreamland.

Happy sleeping!


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