The importance of sleep

The importance of sleep
10 September 2019

We spend a third of our lives asleep and if we don’t get enough good quality sleep it can lead to health and wellbeing issues, especially as sleep quality and quantity is directly related to our immune system.

One of the speakers at last years’ National Asthma and Respiratory conference was Stuart Nash, a Respiratory and Sleep Specialist from Middlemore Hospital, Auckland. His chosen topic was “Sleep, why bother”

Considering we spend one third of our life sleeping, it’s something we pay little attention to.-that is until we are sleep deprived!

We all look forward to a rest at the end of the day, but actually our need for sleep, and hence the effects of a lack of sleep are far more complex.

Sleep happens when we become less responsive to the environment around us

So what happens when we fall asleep?

Many of you may be aware that sleep is divided into two phases:

REM (rapid eye movement) sleep occurs when our eyes are seen to flicker beneath our eyelids.

This is our dreaming sleep.

During this phase, our breathing becomes irregular and our muscles become temporarily paralysed except for our diaphragm which is the muscle responsible for breathing.

Non- REM sleep as it suggests is our non dreaming sleep.

A sleep cycle of non-REM then REM sleep happens every 90 minutes throughout our sleep phase.

As we go off to sleep, and our  responsiveness to the outside world is blunted, our body temperature decreases, our muscles relax, our blood pressure and heart rate decreases.

Now that our brain is no longer concerned with the hustle and bustle of the day, it switches to performing other vital brain functions like processing new information and consolidating our memory. Many hormones are also produced.

Funnily enough, we still use as much oxygen to do this as we would if we were concentrating hard during the day.

Chronic sleep deprivation affects many systems in our body.

There are the obvious effects that most of us can relate to like decreased brain function, hence poor memory and slower thought processes.( This corresponds to an increased incidence of road traffic accidents in sleep deprived people.)

Our mood is altered leading to irritability, depressed mood, decrease in energy and libido and poor judgement.

Our immune system is suppressed which means it becomes more difficult to fight infections.

Our body becomes less sensitive to the release of insulin which is released after our blood detects glucose. This has been shown to contribute to an increased incidence of obesity and diabetes in chronically deprived individuals.

Tips on getting a good nights’ Sleep:

  • Don’t eat a heavy meal less than 2 hours before bedtime
  • Avoid alcohol , nicotine and sleep for 3 hours before sleep
  • Have a bedtime routine to follow
  • Make sure your bedroom is warm, quiet,dimly lit, and relaxing
  • Allow time for reading or listening to music prior to bedtime.
  • Try and keep your routine the same for the weekends
  • Don’t watch TV in bed-your bed is only for sleep or sex.
  • If you can’t sleep after 20 minutes, get out of bed and do something non- active/relaxing until you feel sleepy then try again( repeat this until you feel tired)