World Sleep Day: “Quality Sleep, Sound Mind, Happy World”
March 18, 2022 | by Erika Kelly
Hosted by the World Sleep Society, World Sleep Day is used an opportunity to raise awareness about the importance of sleep health on both our physical and mental wellbeing.
This year’s theme and slogan is “Quality Sleep, Sound Mind, Happy World” and seeks to explore:
- How does quality sleep help maintain mental health?
- How might better sleep help people focus during the day?
- Or how might fatigue weigh us down physically, mentally, and emotionally?
Why is sleep so important?
We all struggle with sleeping from time to time and that is perfectly OK. Changes in circumstance – be that venturing on holiday, moving house, feeling unwell – puts our systems on high alert, causing restlessness. It is when these sleepless nights proceed to last longer, for weeks and months on end, that we may begin to experience feelings of increased worry, stress and exhaustion. Sleep is VITAL for our mental, physical and emotional wellbeing.
Physical benefits include improvements to brain function – the more rested you are, the more helpful your brain will be, which in turn improves a person’s ability to concentrate and focus. Moreover, research shows that getting enough sleep can significantly reduce risks associated with hypertension, heart attacks and strokes, obesity, diabetes, weakened immune systems and much more.
Mental health benefits include simply having more energy. Your brain processes a range of thoughts and feelings as you sleep and dream at night, helping you to wake feeling more refreshed. This in turn stabilises mood and lowers risks associated with anxiety and depression.
So, how can I improve my sleep?
Circadian rhythm – your 24-hour body clock
Your body clock is influenced by sunlight. Humans are programmed to be diurnal – meaning to function during the day and to sleep at night. We may find that we sleep more during the winter months compared to summer due to a chemical known as melatonin being released into the body when the sun starts to set earlier and it gets darker quicker. If melatonin for whatever reason is inhibited, our circadian rhythm may begin to falter, causing the frustration associated with an inability to sleep consistently.
Maintaining routine can include going to bed at the same time each night and keeping this as consistent as possible. This may include an individualised wind down routine inclusive of activities such as reading a calming book or listening to a relaxing playlist or podcast, a warm bath or a milky drink pre-bed.
Limiting use of electronics in the hours before bed
If we know that melatonin is released through darker surroundings and environments, then it makes sense to comprehend why the blue light emitted by LED screens fitted on laptops, tablets and smartphones could negatively impact our ability to fall asleep. This form of light confuses our brain due to its mimicking of daylight. Research shows that minimising use and/or switching off devices approximately two hours before bed leads to increasingly restful sleep.
Exercise has been shown to positively influence the circadian rhythm and lead to better mood and an increasingly restful sleep. It’s important to avoid intense exercise close to bedtime though – aim for no later than four hours before sleeping.
Comfortable sleeping environment
This includes maintaining a cool temperature, which again influences the release of melatonin. A dark, quiet room, which could include black-out blinds and/or curtains also provides your brain with a clue to start releasing the magical sleeping chemical.
This is especially important later on in the day. Napping confuses your body’s circadian rhythm and reduces your need for sleep at night. Moreover, it beneficial for to use your bed only for sleep as your brain learns to associate that getting into bed means sleeping and sleeping only – not watching TV, doing homework, online shopping, etc.
Avoid caffeine, nicotine and alcohol in addition to large meals in the hours preceding bedtime.
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