Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star

28 January, 2021

Topic for this week is sleep. Why? Because it is the most undervalued asset in the area of human performance and wellbeing.

According to a study, sleeping 4 hours (or less) “ages” brain performance by close to a decade (Boom!). That’s serious cognitive impairment stemming from a single night of poor sleep. Lack of sleep also lowers the body’s production of human growth hormone, which helps slow the body’s ageing process and affects everything from the ageing of our organs to the number of wrinkles we have. Furthermore, poor sleep accelerates the ageing of the immune system and makes us more prone to chronic, age-related diseases including type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease. Lack of sleep increases levels of the damaging brain proteins that are linked to Alzheimer’s disease. Scary!

Furthermore, several studies have indicated that sleep deprivation affects food preferences and is linked to increased appetite. When we don’t get enough sleep, we crave the ‘bad stuff’. In other words, we need fast fuel and the fastest fuel available is glucose that we get from carbohydrates.

Due to sleep deprivation many of us end up relying on caffeine and sugar to go through the day. It is not sustainable, and it is truly harming us. Are you ready? Once you know, you can’t ‘unknow’ it…

  • Coffee. It acts as a stressor in the body. Within 15 minutes of drinking coffee, adrenalin is released, putting the body into ‘fight or flight’ mode. We feel alert and all our senses are heightened but simply because our body is drawing on its last resources in preparation to fight a tiger.
  • Sugar and anything that quickly turns into it (refined carbohydrates). It is another stressor in the body. Our blood glucose levels go through the roof after consuming refined carbs, therefore, the body pulls all its resources in order to get the glucose levels back to normal. Hence why we feel the rush of so-called ‘energy’. Studies have shown that an hour after carb consumption body goes into energy slump, so we actually feel worse than we did before eating.

Routinely getting 7-8 hours sleep is one way to ensure we’re able to perform at our best in all the thinking, planning, decision-making (including our food choices!) and communicating we do throughout our day.

“How on earth do I get 7-8 hours of good night’s sleep?! Have you not seen the news recently?!” I hear you.

If a good night’s sleep doesn’t come naturally to you, you need to be proactive and go after it. Yes, more work to do, but it is all for the more productive and healthier YOU.

Ventilate the bedroom 30mins before going to bed (or sleep with an open window if possible). Studies have shown that the dioxide level in the bedroom goes up fast if we sleep with a closed window. However, sleeping with an open window is not always possible due to noise or cold. Make sure you at least ventilate your bedroom well before going to sleep.

Switch off the heating in the bedroom for the night (or reduce to a minimum). According to science, the most comfortable room temperature for us to sleep is between 15 and 19 degrees Celsius.

Use relaxing scents. Get an essential oil diffuser and stock up on a good quality relaxing scents such as lavender, rose, clary sage, chamomile or frankincense. These scents have so many more wonderful properties other than just relaxing the body.

No screens at least 30mins before bed. I spoke about this in the previous post. Blue light tricks brain into thinking it’s a daytime. Therefore, our pineal gland doesn’t release melatonin that prepares body for sleep. If you absolutely have to use your phone before going to bed, activate the Night Shift setting (Display & Brightness on iPhone and iPad).

Dim the lighting in your bedroom. Research has shown that being in a fully lit room prior to going to sleep results in delayed and shortened production of melatonin compared to dim lighting.

Have a set bedtime and wake up time. Light, time, and melatonin are the main factors that impact the circadian rhythm. Therefore, inconsistent bedtimes may disrupt our circadian rhythm, which may lead to obesity, hypertension, and elevated blood sugar, and the higher risk of developing heart disease.

Establish a ritual to relax the body and the mind. Chamomile tea with your favourite book could do the trick. It was reported that even 6 minutes of reading a (paper) book can ease tension of stress in our body. If you were thinking “What am I going to do 30mins before bed without any screens!?”, here is your answer. You may also consider the last two tips for a good night’s sleep.

Avoid caffeine after 2pm. Caffeine stays long in our body. Therefore, if we consume caffeinated beverage after 2pm, there is a great chance of us having trouble falling asleep or not being able to move into the deeper phase of sleep called REM which benefits learning, memory and mood.

Avoid alcoholic beverages. Consuming alcohol before bed reduces the amount of REM sleep we get. The more alcohol we consume, the more REM sleep is impacted. A study on rats has shown that just 4 days of REM sleep deprivation affects cell proliferation in the part of the brain that contributes to long-term memory. Lack of REM sleep is also linked to reduced coping skills, migraines and obesity.

Have an intense exercising routine. It increases the slow-wave sleep (delta sleep). During the stage 3 of NREM sleep our body consolidates the memories and repairs itself. Our brain has a chance to get a proper rest from activity and recharge.

Take a hot bath. Body heating offers similar benefits to going through an intense exercising routine in terms of our ability to experience more slow-wave sleep afterwards.