Why is Sleep so Important

Is anyone else feeling tired as we are heading towards the shortest day of the year? With longer days, colder temperatures and little sun exposure, it’s natural to crave more time in bed.

Why are we more tired in the winter?

We have less exposure to sunlight during the winter months, which affects our internal clock also known as our circadian rhythm. Our circadian rhythm dictates when we feel tired, energetic or alert. It causes our body to produce more melatonin in the winter, the sleep hormone, leaving us feeling tired more often. Getting vitamin D from the direct sunlight is also more difficult in the winter as we spend less time outside. Vitamin D which has a tremendous impact on mood, energy level and immune function. A vitamin D deficiency can make us feel fatigued, which is more prevalent during the winter. Our diet also changes during the colder months as we reach for comforting foods because they release mood-enhancing neurotransmitters, like serotonin and dopamine. These comfort foods are usually not healthy and can make us feel more tired and sluggish. Fresh produce is also less available in the winter months which impacts this. Exposure to cold temperatures has been shown to increase metabolism and increase the risk of colds or illnesses. Both require sleep for energy and healing.

Daylight Savings Time

The sleep-research community have proposed to eliminate daylight savings time. When our clocks are pushed forward people lose one hour of sleep, which is associated with significantly more motor vehicle accidents and cardiac events. When our clocks move backward, the extra hour does not help actually help us as our sleep patterns are disrupted by a change like this. Therefore, both time changes can have negative health impacts.

The Importance of Sleep

Getting a good night’s sleep is incredibly important for your health and wellbeing. In fact, it’s just as important as eating a balanced, nutritious diet and exercising. For children and teens sleep also supports their mental, physical, social and emotional growth and development. Sleep needs will vary from person to person, but most adults require between 7 and 9 hours of sleep per night. Below are some more key benefits of sleep.

Key benefits of sleep:

  • May help you maintain or lose weight – Sleep deprivation increases levels of the ghrelin hormone, making you feel more hungry, and decreases levels of the leptin hormone, which makes you feel less full. Feeling tired from lack of sleep will also decrease motivation to exercise, which can cause you to gain weight.
  • Improves brain function – Cognition, concentration, productivity, and performance are all negatively affected by sleep deprivation.
  • May strengthen your heart – Low sleep quality and duration may increase your risk of developing heart disease as it seems to increase the risk of high blood pressure. Interestingly, excessive sleep in adults (more than 9 hours) was also shown to increase the risk of heart disease and high blood pressure.
  • Supports a healthy immune system – Lack of sleep has been shown to impair immune function as deep sleep is necessary for the body to repair itself and strengthen the immune system. People who sleep fewer hours per night are more likely to develop a cold as proper sleep improves your body’s antibody responses.

Top Tips to Sleep Better

Wondering what you can do this winter to improve your sleep and get the right amount of rest your body needs? Here are some top tips!

  1. Pay attention to what you eat and drink – Don’t go to bed hungry or stuffed, and avoid large meals within a couple of hours of bedtime. Avoid caffeine, alcohol and sugar at late hours. Although alcohol may help a person fall asleep quickly, it hinders sleep quality.
  2. Time your exercise – Exercise releases ‘feel-good’ chemicals called endorphins, which give you a boost, reduce stress and help you sleep better at night. It is also great if you choose to exercise outside in the morning sunlight, as it can help with your circadian rhythm. However, don’t exercise too close to bedtime as it can keep you awake.
  3. Create a restful environment – Reduce your blue light exposure in the evening and stick to a warm bath and reading a book instead, to help you wind down. Keep your bedroom dark and a bit cooler than other rooms in your house. You may want a bit of ventilation, ambient sounds like rainfall or white noise, and even ear plugs or an eye mask.
  4. Stick to a sleep schedule – try sticking to a regular bedtime routine, even during the weekend. Sleeping too much over the weekend can cause a sleep hangover, so set aside 8 hours for sleep.
  5. Increase bright light exposure during the day – Natural sunlight during the day helps to keep your circadian rhythm healthy. This improves daytime energy as well as night-time sleep quality and duration.

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