We’re all pretty well versed in the nutritional benefits of, say, cutting down on sugar, or including more fruit and vegetables in our diets. Similarly, we know that exercise is essential for health, wellbeing and keeping our sedentary love handles at bay. But how many of us take sleep as seriously?
According to a new study, more of us should.
The UW Medicine Sleep Center at Harborview Medical Center found that people who regularly manage less than seven hours of sleep a night struggle with depressed immune systems.
Researchers examining identical twins concluded that “when sleep deprived people are given a vaccine, there is a lower antibody response and if you expose sleep deprived people to a rhinovirus they are more likely to get the virus.”
So what stops us from getting enough?
While Gwyneth Paltrow’s ‘clean sleeping’ methods may be typically overthought (and expensive), she certainly has a point when it comes to what we eat and what we do before bedtime.
An independent study of 2000 adults conducted by Simba Sleep recently revealed that Brits have questionable knowledge on what to eat before bedtime.
It found that one in five believe spicy foods like curry will help them to get quality shut-eye. One in ten also think foods such as burgers, chilli and chocolate digestives can improve sleep quality.
“While particular foods and drinks may feel warming, those that are spicy, caffeinated, or high in fat and protein can play havoc with our sleep,” Sammy Margo, author of The Good Sleep Guide, said.
“Lying down after eating a spice-laden meal can result in heartburn and a restless night. Fatty foods high in protein, like steak, digest slowly and may disturb our Circadian rhythm. Plus, whilst a nightcap can make you feel drowsy, excessive alcohol prevents you from getting into the deeper stages of sleep, and may make you feel groggy the next day.”
Instead, Margo recommends insulin-regulating foods just as bananas, oats, almonds, and foods high in sleep-inducing tryptophan, such as eggs and turkey.
Author of the UW Medicine Sleep Center study, Dr. Nathaniel Watson, also highlighted the affect technology has on our quality of sleep.
“Modern society, with its control of light, omnipresent technology and countless competing interests for time, along with the zeitgeist de-emphasising sleep’s importance, has resulted in the widespread de-prioritisation of sleep,” he wrote.
Meanwhile, former Huffington Post editor and author of The Sleep Revolution Arianna Huffington, stressed the importance of a bedtime routine.
“I treat my transition to sleep as a sacrosanct ritual. I have a specific time at night when I regularly turn off my devices — and gently escort them out of my bedroom,” she told Huff Post UK.
“Before bed, I take a hot bath with Epsom salts and a candle flickering nearby—a bath that I prolong if I’m feeling anxious or worried about something.”
She used to sleep in work-out clothes, she continued, but prefers not to confuse her brain by having clear bed clothes and a cup of herbal tea before she hits the sack.
“Think of each stage of your bedtime ritual as designed to help you shed more of your stubborn daytime worries.”
According to the Harvard Medical Center’s Healthy Sleep project, sleep itself is a far more active process for the body and mind than perhaps we realise. Among a number of physiological changes that occur in the body when we sleep, it is also the time when we process the events of the day and emotions surrounding that.
Techniques used for processing emotions and stressful daily events include yoga, meditation (see below) and even writing a diary.
So turn off your phone and get de-addicted to Netflix. Its time we all got a little more quality rest. With or without Gwynny’s £85 pillow spray.
This piece was first published in February 2017.