What's With Sleep?

By Emma Judges

Such an interesting phenomenon. 5 little letters that can bring so much joy and energy or create anxiety and misery. Unfortunately, it seems that the latter is more prevalent than the mystical former. And even though it is something we have been doing for half our life and from the beginning of time, it seems to remain as an elusive ambition. Always wanting more or better quality. It is rare to hear someone say “Gosh, if I could only sleep less”

So why do we have such a hard time getting to sleep and staying asleep? Is it more artificial light around us? Higher levels of stress? Bad food choices? Hormone imbalances? Too much alcohol? Not enough exercise? Not enough sunlight? Well, chances are, it is probably a combination of factors which lead to what is known as poor ‘Sleep Hygiene’. Sleep hygiene is all the little things you do prior to bed time (well, actually it begins when you wake up in the morning), which can either assist or prevent your best chance of falling asleep quickly and staying asleep.

So firstly, how much sleep is considered adequate sleep? I say adequate, because everyone has different, individual sleep needs. However, as a general rule of thumb, 7-9hrs is the recommended sleep requirement for adults.

Why do we need to sleep 7-9hrs each night? Sleep is a vital necessity. And while it appears the brain and body are ‘dormant’ while we sleep, the brain is still firing away, sending electro-chemical signals and using up energy. It is the only time your body can repair and your brain can flush out old toxic cells. It’s like a nocturnal car wash for the brain.

In both negative and positive directions, sleep affects mood, cognitive function, glucose metabolism and immune function. Testosterone is made during sleep. Sufficient sleep allows organs to rest and recover, muscles to build and for the brain to organize events and memory.

Sleep is not a luxury. There is strong evidence to suggest sleep affects mood disorders, obesity, insulin sensitivity (diabetes), cardiovascular disease and blood pressure. Luckily, the narrative around pulling all-nighters is not something to brag about anymore. It is now considered a neglect for one’s health or time management.

Good hygiene is key for longevity and living a healthy life span. Hopefully you have some in place around other hygiene habits such as brushing your teeth, washing your clothes and showering. Now let’s add sleep to that list.

Sleep Scientist Matthew Walker, PhD has a fantastic 5min TEDTalk on tips and tricks for falling asleep and staying asleep longer below.