Important Things You Need To Know About: Sleep

By Hagit Malikin, EPC Student Intern
The moment you are born, sleep becomes an integral part of your daily life. Sleep allows infants brain development to occur1, children to focus better in school2 and adults to continue working and functioning productively4. As we get older, the amount of sleep needed decreases, but nevertheless, remains a significant part of our day. Based on important research done in the field of sleep, our mind and body requires sleep to function properly and efficiently. According to the literature, children should be sleeping around twelve (12) hours a night, adolescents between eight (8) and ten (10) hours a night and adults between seven (7) and eight (8) hours a night4. Though our sleep time decreases, it remains a significant part of our day; one third!
In a busy world like ours, we see sleep as something that can be reduced or postponed. As the old saying goes “I’ll sleep when I’m dead!” in reality not enough sleep or poor-quality sleep, does a world of bad, negatively impacting our physical and mental health. Studies have shown that risk for weight gain and diabetes, along with other illness are increased with insufficient sleep. In a few interesting studies, both adults and newborn babies who slept much less than required, had a significant increase in weight5. Furthermore, lack of sleep has been linked to a decrease in immune function, making us more susceptible to developing the common colds or/and infections5. In addition, sleep and mental health are seen to have a bidirectional effect, meaning that mental health disorder can affect sleep and from the other hand, sleep may affect our mental health state. Research has shown that people who suffer from mental disorders have a higher risk in developing sleep problems. For instance, those who suffer from depression or anxiety tend to ruminate or overthink during the night, preventing their minds to relax and fall asleep6. As well, those who have trouble falling asleep have a higher risk of becoming more irritable as well a decrease in energy and motivation7.

Sleep is actually one of the most productive parts of our day. It is during sleep that our hormones regulate, our immune system works to repair and heal our bodies, our memories consolidate and our minds work out the day’s affairs, as well as neurogenesis occurs (develop new brain cells). Therefore, when we sleep our bodies heal, our brain grows, information and memories take hold in our mind, and we restore and recharge to be productive and functionally optimally in the days ahead. Sleep is a foundational aspect to well being and self-care.

Why is sleep so important….?
Serves to decrease stress and increase mood

Lowers risks for diseases such as diabetes, depression and heart diseases

Elevates concentration and productivity

Elevates one’s immune function

Provides time for our brain to re-consolidate our memories and the new information learnt
What are some easy steps to take when trying to improve my sleep quality?

1. Use your bed for sleep and sex only. Watching TV, reading or doing work in bed sends mix signals to your brain. It provides the message that it’s okay and normal to be awake in bed. When using your bed for sleep only, you condition your brain to associate your bed to sleep time rather than a simple relaxation time, such as reading or watching TV.

2. Decrease liquid consumption before bed. Waking up to go to the bathroom during the night is a common situation that we may encounter, especially as we get older. Limiting your liquid intake a few hours before your typical bedtime may help avoid waking up to during the night to use the bathroom. Getting out of bed disrupts our sleep cycle and our ability into going back into a deep sleep or may even prevent us for falling back asleep.

3. Avoid falling asleep on the couch. Your bed should be the only place where you fall asleep. When you feel like you are about to doze off in front of the TV, this is the perfect time for you to get yourself to bed. This shows that your body is ready for sleep. When falling asleep at the couch and then forcing your way to your room, you are once again disturbing your sleep cycle.

4. Take a calm walk before bedtime. The key to a calm walk is the fresh air that one gets. The increase in oxygen while on your walk, allows you to feel calmer, kind of like a natural sleeping pill. In addition, night walking provides a decrease in light exposure and therefore the start of the beginning of a melatonin increase, the sleep hormone.

5. Avoid working out a couple of hours before bedtime. If you scheduled your workout in the evening, make sure to give yourself enough time for your body to recover from the “pump” of the given workout.

“Sleep is the best meditation.”

~ Dalai Lama