The Importance of Sleep
We all lead constantly busy lives: whether it be work, family or the never-ending to-do list, it seems there never is enough time to a day. Among these priorities (work, family, commitments) that form the pillars of our lives, sleep becomes less of a priority. The way we sleep dictates our mood during the day, our sense of productivity and our overall quality of life.
According to a recent study by the American Academy of Sleep Medicine and Sleep Research Society, it is recommended adults snatch seven or more hours of sleep per night. This golden seven hour rule should be no secret to us. But with a third of the study’s population getting six hours or less, it’s clear our actions don’t reflect this knowledge.
If you knew how much this sleep deficit impacts on our quality of life, you may be more inclined to grab a few extra hours. A recent survey involving over 28,000 subjects showed those whose sleep time was outside the seven hour mark had substantially worse quality life, associated with physical illnesses.
Sleep More - Improve Your Quality of Life
1. Physical Health
According to the Restorative Theory of Sleep, shut-eye time allows our body to repair and rejuvenate, through repairing tissue, boosting muscle mass, synthesising proteins and releasing growth hormone.
These processes are essential to develop the strong immune system we need to operate optimally on a day-to-day basis. Indeed, a study that exposed a cold virus to its subjects after monitoring their sleeping habits, showed that subjects who had less than seven hours of sleep were three times as likely to get sick than those with eight hours of sleep.
2. Maintaining your weight
One of the lesser known benefits of sleep is better weight control. A 2005 study by Archives of Internal Medicine showed that overweight participants sleep less than participants of normal weight.
In our bodies, we have a hormone called leptin - key to making us feel full. But when you don’t sleep enough, leptin levels drop. This causes you to feel hungrier than usual, making you reach for those high-fat and high-calorie foods you know you should avoid.
3. Good sleep = good mood
Getting enough sleep won’t instantly flick on your happy switch, but it’s true that when you’re tired, you’re more likely to be cranky.
Lack of sleep negatively affects the way your emotions regulate, often increasing your stress levels through amplified moodiness, anxiety and aggression. While sleep won’t eliminate all your stress, it will increase your readiness to cope with it.
4. Improved memory
We all have two types of memory: the declarative “what” (e.g. what is the capital of Australia?) and procedural “how” (e.g. how do you open a door?). Both of these are key to our day-to-day lives.
Studies show that while we sleep, our brains process and consolidate memories — both declarative and procedural. Safe to say, when you don’t sleep enough, these memories may not get stored properly, or worse, get lost altogether.
5. Mental clarity
Sleep affects the way you think. When you lose sleep, you’re far more likely to make silly mistakes (e.g. leaving your phone in the fridge) and become worse at solving problems than if you’re well rested.
When you don’t sleep enough the night before, the neurons in their brain are not able to function optimally the next day. Your ability to focus and decision making abilities are significantly impaired.
More importantly, our safety is compromised when sleep is disregarded. The Institute of Medicine highlights that one out of five auto accidents in the U.S. is a result of drowsy driving, resulting in 1 million crashes a year.
How to Sleep Better
Allow quiet time before bed
Whether it’s the latest episode of Game of Thrones or the last few outstanding emails in your inbox, we understand the struggle. “Just five more minutes!” you reason with yourself. But it’s essential you spend these last five minutes up to half an hour before bedtime away from stimulants.
Doing work close to bedtime stimulates your brain and may cause you unnecessary stress, making it hard to sleep. In fact, bright lights from the TV and laptop can hinder the development of melatonin - the hormone that actually helps you sleep.
Take a hot shower.
Hot showers help you fall asleep, by relaxing your muscles. But do make sure you don’t take one too close to your bedtime. This can lead to overheating and sweating, making you uncomfortable and preventing you from falling asleep.
Try to keep the same bedtime over weeknights and weekends.
Staying up late and sleeping in at different times across your week disrupts your body clock’s circadian rhythm. It’s good to wake up and go to bed at the same time everyday, allowing your body to learn the optimal time to sleep.
OK, being practical, we understand that social events over weekends mean this is not always possible. While it’s okay not to follow your bedtime down to the minute, try to allow no more than an hour’s difference.
Sleeping Tips for Expectant Mums
Getting a good night’s sleep is one of the hardest things about pregnancy. Sweats, aching hips, heartburn that gets worse as you lie down — these side effects of pregnancy make the whole sleeping process difficult.
With the increased size of your abdomen, you wonder, what is the best sleeping position for both you and your baby? Is sleeping on your back okay, or is that bad? It’s important to find the right sleeping position and conditions for both you and the baby growing inside you.
Pregnancy: Finding the right position
1. Sleeping on your tummy
Certainly, this is OK to do during the early stages of pregnancy. As you move deeper into your pregnancy, you should avoid this sleeping position and will inevitably find you can no longer do this anyway.
2. Sleeping on your back
Much like sleeping on your tummy, it is OK to sleep on your back during your first trimester, but best to avoid in the later months of your pregnancy.
When you sleep on your back, your growing baby puts pressure on your spine, back muscles, intestines and, more importantly, major blood vessels that circulate blood to your heart.
So this position could restrict the amount of blood and nutrients that reach your placenta and baby. It could also cause your blood pressure to drop, leaving you feeling dizzy and nauseous, not to mention muscle aches and pains when you awake the next morning.
3. Sleeping on your side
Sleeping on the side, otherwise known as SOS, is the best. But which is the best side to sleep on – left or right?
The answer is your left. While sleeping on your right hand side is much better than sleeping on your front/back, it’s still not as good as sleeping on your left. Sleeping on your right puts pressure on your liver, while sleeping on your left prevents this.
Recommended by doctors and midwives, sleeping on the left allows your baby to receive the right amount of nutrients and oxygen through the placenta. It also helps your kidneys efficiently eliminate waste products and fluids from your body.
Make use of pillows: positioning a pillow under your body keeps you on your side, preventing you from rolling onto your stomach or back.
While sleeping on the left is the best, don’t panic if you wake up on your back or your right hand side. Staying in one position all night isn’t comfortable, so it’s okay to turn from side to side; though, of course, favouring the lefts side is best.
Strategies to sleep better during pregnancy
Apart from honing the right sleeping position for both you and your baby, many mothers-to-be struggle with falling asleep. Below we have a few suggestions to help you ease your way into a good night of sleep.
1. Skip late night snacks
Consuming food and drink within two hours of bedtime will increase the likelihood of reflux or heartburn, so it’s best to avoid this.
2. Prop your body
Get a firm pillow and prop your head and upper body a few inches higher. This will put less pressure on your diaphragm, helping you breathe easier during the night.
3. Make your bed comfortable
As your spine will suffer more pressure than normal due to the extra weight of your stomach, try arranging different sized pillows in a way that would elevate your body and relieve back pain. A mattress pad is also handy in providing more support for your back.
4. Turn down the temp
The right sleeping environment is key to a good night’s sleep. As your body heat does increase during pregnancy, experiment with your room’s thermostat and find a temperature that is right for you.
5. Unplug well before bedtime
This is the golden rule most of us forget about in today’s tech-savvy day and age, but so important when it comes to getting a good night’s rest.
Be sure to remove any external stimulation from your presence fifteen minutes before bedtime. This includes social media, books, laptops, newspapers, television. Allowing your mind and body to unwind and relax at the end of the day will help you fall asleep better.
Getting a good night’s rest with a baby growing inside of you is no easy feat, but there are ways to make it easier on yourself, such as finding the right sleeping position, following a nightly ritual and creating a comfortable sleeping environment.
Sleeping with Back Pain
Back pain is common and affects most of us at some point in our lives. Recent estimates from the Australian Bureau of Statistics show that about 1.8 million Australians suffer from back problems. It has also been estimated that around 70-90% of people will suffer from lower pack pain at some point in their lives.
As sleep is a time for repairing tissues and boosting muscle mass, it makes sense to look at how you can reduce back pain through sleep. Your sleeping position itself may even be causing the back pain, instead of repairing it! Today, we look at the best and worst sleeping positions specifically for back pain:
Worst Sleep Position for Back Pain: The Freefall
Freefall sleepers, you may want to think about changing up the way you sleep. As sleeping on your stomach can flatten the natural curve of your spine, this may put additional strain on your back muscles — thus, making your back pain even worse. As your neck is crooked to the side while you sleep, this results in back pain between your shoulders.
If you’d like to continue with the same freefall sleeping position, the next best thing would be to put a pillow under your lower abdomen and pelvis. This is to support the natural curve of your spine.
Best Sleep Position for Back Pain: The Log
In the Log position you lie on the side with both arms by your side. This position keeps the spine straight, which would help ease your back pain. Aside from this, side sleepers can also draw their legs slightly towards the chest with a pillow between their knees to further alleviate pain.
For Back Sleepers: Put a pillow between your knees - this is to allow your spine to maintain its natural curve.
Creating the right sleep spot
When it comes to sleeping, creating the right environment is just as essential as your sleeping position. Comfort differs from person to person. You may prefer a hard mattress or a soft one, or vice versa.
It’s important to choose a mattress that fully supports your back; so do some research beforehand and try sleeping on various mattresses in-store when you select your mattress. A firm or medium-firm mattress is usually the best option.
Aside from this, it’s also helpful to use a contoured pillow to alleviate neck strain. Alternatively, you can sleep on just one pillow, instead of a stack of pillows, to keep your body level.
While the log is the best sleep position for back pain, it’s fine to move around a bit while you sleep – don’t literally be a log! In fact, if you maintain a sleep position for too long, this may actually amplify your back pain.
Back pain is not fun, and unfortunately it doesn’t stop when you go to bed at night. So it’s important to find the right support for your back when you sleep. You can position pillows unique to your sleeping position, or altering your sleeping position to alleviate the pain.
We hope the above suggestions will help all of you with back pain in getting a better night’s rest and some back pain relief.