Improve Your Sleep

I saw a fascinating documentary the other week: How to Sleep Well with Michael Mosley (Monday 08 August 2022 on BBC2). It really drove home the importance of good sleep for your health and wellbeing.

For one thing, good sleep reduces your chances of getting Alzheimer’s, by reducing the build-up of abnormal proteins in the brain called ameloid, a condition called amyloidosis. Good sleep also is important for long term heart health and also reduces your risk of certain types of cancer.

According to Dr Mosley, a study of 200,000 people by Oxford University found that the average length of sleep was 6 hours 40 minutes, and 44% of the group reported ‘poor sleep’ on a regular basis.

Sleep Cycles

There are four stages in the sleep cycle, which repeats itself several times a night: stage 1, stage 2, stage 3 (deep sleep) and stage 4 (REM sleep). A hypnogram can measure these sleep cycles. Deep sleep is where the brain is detoxified and the immune system repaired, together with many other repair and recharging processes. 20% of your total sleep needs to be deep sleep for optimum repair. The transition from deep sleep to REM sleep is where memories are consolidated.

REM sleep is dream sleep, and good REM sleep is important for emotional regulation and mood.

Sleep Apnea

Only 25% of people with sleep apnea, which is when you temporarily stop breathing during sleep, have been diagnosed with the condition. Sleep apnea can increase your risk of heart disease, hypertension (high blood pressure) and stroke. Obesity is a major cause of sleep apnea.

Poor Sleep and Obesity

The hypothalamus, deep in the brain, keeps your body in a stable state by managing your hormones. Poor sleepers have lower levels of the hormone leptin, the ‘feel full’ hormone which helps prevent you over-eating, and higher levels of the opposing hormone grehlin, the hunger signal.

Insomnia

5 million people suffer from insomnia, a chronic poor sleep disorder which makes it hard to fall asleep, hard to achieve unbroken sleep throughout the night, or waking early in the morning and not being able to get back to sleep.

Unsurprisingly, if you suffer from insomnia, it can lead to chronic tiredness which adversely affects your quality of life, ability to concentrate or motivate yourself, and increases your risk of accidents including road traffic accidents.

Daytime Naps

Margaret Thatcher, Conservative prime minister in the 1980s, famously slept just 4 hours a night (going to bed around 2am and getting up at 6am), and made up for this by taking regular ‘power naps’ throughout the day that lasted anything between 5 and 15 minutes.

The science shows that the optimum nap length is between 20 and 30 minutes, taken between 1pm and 4pm. Try it and see how refreshed you feel for the rest of the day. Make sure you set your alarm for 20 minutes to make sure you don’t over-sleep and wake groggy.

(Dominic Londesborough, founder of Fitness4London.com, is a personal trainer in London and online nutrition coach)

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