The power of sleep

The power of sleep

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A good night’s rest will help you feel on top of your game

It’s that time of year when your healthy habits often go out of the window, but prioritising partying over eating smart and getting that shut-eye can have a huge impact on your wellbeing.

Research shows that skimping on time in dreamland won’t just leave you feeling foggy and misty-eyed the next day, it can also lower immunity, lead to weight gain and even raise the risk of conditions like cardiovascular disease and depression. ‘We know that the sleeping brain plays an important role in staving off illness and energising the body and mind to prepare it for peak performance,’ says Rescue Night spokesperson Sammy Margo (thegoodsleepexpert.com). ‘Sleep not only affects our moods, it affects our weight, skin, memory, performance at work and relationships,’ she adds.

We reveal how to offset sneaky health-destroyers and get a great night’s sleep every night this festive season.

Problem 1: 

Piling on the pounds 

It’s not just indulging in one too many Christmas canapés that will see you piling on excess weight. Not getting enough snoozing time will also affect your waistline. Those who don’t get enough sleep eat more than those who do, according to research. Wonder why? Without adequate shut-eye, you simply don’t have the mental clarity for decision-making, meaning you’re more likely to give into cravings. Inadequate sleep also affects your hormone levels, lowering levels of the satiating hormone leptin and increasing levels of the hunger hormone ghrelin, according to a 2012 study published in the Journal Of The Academy Of Nutrition And Dietetics.

Your sleep-better plan: 

Make sure you don’t eat or drink anything that will disrupt your sleep quality from 2pm onwards. This includes caffeinated drinks and chocolate and keep heavy, processed foods to a minimum. Sip on a mug of warm milk or caffeine-free tea an hour before hitting the hay. Dairy is high in the amino acid tryptophan, which helps convert the neurotransmitter serotonin to relaxing melatonin, while certain herbal infusions such as chamomile or lemon balm are thought to help induce sleep. ‘Getting enough sleep, in combination with healthy eating and regular exercise, is also key, so try to work out two to three times per week. Regular walking, swimming or interval training are good options, says Sammy.

Problem 2: Suffering the seasonal sniffles

Can’t seem to fight off that January cold? Your bedtime routine may be to blame. ‘The more sleep deprived you are the more likely you are to succumb to bouts of illness,’ explains Sammy. Lack of sleep lowers immunity by down-regulating numbers of disease-fighting T-cells and up-regulating inflammatory cytokines, which suppress immune system function, according to a study published in The Journal Of Translational Immunology.

Your sleep-better plan: 

Sleep gives our immune organs like the lymph glands the chance to renew and regenerate. If your schedule means late nights aplenty, try to nap for at least 30 minutes during the day, as short bursts of sleep have been shown to return levels of immune cells back to normal while leaving you feeling more alert.

Problem 3: Struggling to conceive

If you’re looking to get your body into baby making mode, now might be just the right time. But before you get too broody, you might want to re-think your sleep schedule, as research also shows that sleep deprivation can lower fertility in both men and women. Getting less than the recommended eight hours of sleep can have an impact on the stress hormone cortisol, significantly increasing levels that can interrupt regular ovulation.

Your sleep-better plan: 

Take a regular prenatal multivitamin every day at least three months before trying for a baby. This will ensure your body has optimum levels of the vitamins, minerals and other nutrients necessary to conceive. ‘It’s also a good idea to schedule some relaxing time into your day to help balance hormones. Allow time for a bedtime routine, including a warm shower or bath, some relaxing music or an audio book, to allow yourself to unwind into a good night’s sleep,’ advises Sammy.

Problem 4: Becoming forgetful 

Ever wondered why you’re clumsier, less focused and generally more forgetful when you’ve skimped on shut-eye? Well, getting enough zzzs is especially important for the brain. Chinese and American researchers, who conducted a study on mice earlier this year, found that more connections between memory-enhancing neurons were formed while the mice were asleep, while another more recent study by Oxford University discovered that not getting enough sleep can even lead to brain shrinkage over time. ‘Studies show that people given a mathematical problem before sleeping have a better chance of solving it the next day. This is because memory consolidation happens during sleep,’ explains Sammy.

Your sleep-better plan: 

You can boost your brain power with some good nutritional choices, too. Try taking a good-quality omega-3 supplement daily to help keep your brain cells healthy and eat lots of lovely brain-boosting foods, such as oily fish (salmon, sardines, mackerel, anchovies and herring) nuts and seeds, to keep your grey matter working at its very best all day long.

Problem 5: Stressing out 

This time of year can bring on a bout of stress, and not being able to switch off is the number one reason we find it hard to drop off. Unfortunately, though, the less you sleep, the more stressed you become. Lack of sleep increases levels of the stress hormone cortisol, which heightens your appetite, throws your hormones off balance and increases the risk of conditions such as heart disease over time.

Your sleep-better plan: 

To help break the vicious stress-sleep cycle, try to squeeze in a couple of sessions of yoga every week to increase mind-body awareness and keep stress levels to a minimum. ‘Your bedroom also needs to be the right environment for sleep. It needs to be like a safe haven for sleep,’ says Sammy.

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