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Benefits of sleep

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Benefits of sleep

Sleep is vital for optimal health, and there are many benefits of sleep. We spend about a third of our lives sleeping and it is as important as breathing, drinking and eating.

Good mental and physical health and recovery are under pinned by good quality sleep and I have seen the effects that poor sleep has had on several people in my personal life.

Dr Matthew Walker states that he believes good nutrition; exercise and sleep are the three foundations of health (1). Following all the research he did for his book he now believes that sleep is the foundation, without which we cannot build solid good health.

My story

I am very lucky and prior to having a child I have never had any issues with sleeping but during the later stages of pregnancy and having a newborn that all changed drastically and although I expected this to be the case it did not make it any the more easier to get used to. We co-slept and breastfed and I loved it so much and it was such a special time for us all but after a while of sleeping like this the adrenaline wore off, and lack of sleep really started to make an impact on my physical and mental wellbeing.

Long story short, after reading a plethora of sleep help books from a variety of authors and having had no luck we sought out a sleep consultant in Little Dreams. We wanted to teach my child sleep skills in the quickest and gentlest way for us without resorting to a ‘cry-it-out’ method. After a matter of days our lives changed and we were all getting the sleep we needed to lead healthier, engaged lives.

I am so passionate about sleep and the benefits of sleep for everyone, but especially children and their carers.

What is it about?

This blog is to set out some of the benefits of sleep and the effects that sleep has on general wellbeing. I will not focus on the medical effects that lack of sleep can bring as I do not want to alarm but I can only stress how important good sleep is for all over health.  If you are inspired and want to know more there are a number of great books on the market that do this in much more detail (I particularly recommend Dr Matthew Walker’s ‘Why We Sleep’).

Sleep is still a bit of a mystery. There is a lot of information and studies about sleep out there but there is still a huge amount we do not know and it is a relatively ‘new’ area of research.

According to sleep expert and NIH neuroscientist, Merrill Mitler, “Sleep services all aspects of our body in one way or another: molecular, energy balance, as well as intellectual function, alertness and mood.” A good night’s sleep also improves your reflexes and overall ability to think clearly. An hour or two less than you need makes a difference in your level of reasoning, attention to detail, productivity and more. (2)

Dr, Michael Twery, another NIH sleep expert, explains: “Sleep affects almost every tissue in our bodies. It affects growth and stress hormones, our immune system, appetite, breathing, blood pressure and cardiovascular health.” Some experts claim that sleep is good for the brain and can help extend your life. (2)

7 reasons why sleep is important

  • 1. Looks after your emotional and mental wellbeing

Good quality sleep may help you to not ‘get out on the wrong side of the bed’. This is an annoying saying I know but is generally infers that when you woke up, you started the day feeling uncomfortable, unhappy or grumpy. I think it is safe to say that everyone has had more than one of these days and can trace it back to poor sleep. ‘Sleep and mood are closely connected; poor or inadequate sleep can cause irritability and stress, while healthy sleep can enhance wellbeing’. (3)

  • 2. Keep sickness at bay

Sleep benefits your immune system in that it gives your body the time it needs to rest and repair when you are sick. Adequate sleep supports the cells of your immune system to detect and destroy foreign invaders your body might come into everyday contact with. It also helps these cells to remember these invaders, so if you come across the same bugs and germs again, you’re prepared to fight them off. So it’s essential to allow yourself time to rest and recover when you’re not feeling well. (4)

  • 3. Helps you maintain a healthy weight

Eating little and often is important if you are breastfeeding but you are more likely to over eat and choose foods that are high in calories later in the day if you are not sleeping well. If you’re not sleeping properly, your body will need more energy because it’s awake for longer. Being sleep-deprived could also increase your appetite, as it changes the level of hormones that signal hunger and fullness in your body. Not only that, but if you’re feeling tired, it might also mean you have less energy to exercise. So getting enough sleep could help you to maintain a healthy weight.

  • 4. Maintain good relationships

It’s no secret that a bad night’s sleep can leave you feeling grumpy, while getting enough good sleep can help to put you in a positive headspace. And when you’re feeling good, it’s likely to be felt by the people around you.

The amount of sleep you get can affect your language, reasoning and communication skills – all key factors when building relationships with others. A bad night’s sleep can make it more difficult to control your emotions and communicate with others, and can sometime lead to conflict. But getting enough sleep can help you to regulate your emotions, interact well with others and maintain good interpersonal relationships.

  • 5. Attention span and concentration

Getting the right amount of quality sleep can help keep energy levels up and maintain your attention span throughout the day. This means that risk assessing, reaction times and strategic thinking is on point. Getting plenty of sleep can help you to stay sharp and focused all day long.

  • 6. Making memories

Sleep allows our brains to rest, rebuild and repair. Your brain begins to organise and process all the information you’ve taken on during the day. It converts your short-term memories into long-term memories. This helps you to learn and means that when you wake up, you can see things more clearly. “Acquisition and recall only take place while you’re awake, but consolidation “takes place during sleep through the strengthening of the neural connections that form our memories. The overall evidence suggests that adequate sleep each day is very important for learning and memory.” (3)

  • 7. Reduce your stress levels

There are lots of things that can cause you to feel stressed, and how you personally deal with stress will be different from someone else. But feeling stressed, for example from work, relationships, financial or health concerns, is often a key factor if you’re struggling to sleep at night. When you’re feeling stressed, your body releases ‘stress hormones’, for example cortisol, which can keep you awake. On the other hand, a good night’s sleep can have an ‘anti-stress’ effect and relax the systems in your body that are responsible for this stress response.

Sleep baby

Babies need to sleep even more than you do. Your little one’s body may look calm while they sleep, but behind the scenes there’s a lot of vital work going on. Growth hormones are being secreted to help your little one gain weight and grow, cytokines are being produced to fight off infections and produce antibodies, and many other intricate systems are at work laying the foundations for growth and development. They will continue to do so throughout adolescence, too, provided they’re given the opportunity. (6)

See my blogs on Sleepy Foodzzz and A better bedtime routine to help with your little ones sleep.


End notes:

  • (1) ‘Why we sleep’ Matthew Walker, Penguin Publishing 2018
  • (2)
  • (3)
  • (4) Bupa
  • (5)
  • (6)

If you are not getting the sleep that you need because your little one is not sleeping well then simply get in touch. Your little one can be taught the skills they need to settle and sleep well without the need for a ‘cry-it-out’ method. I can help you to enjoy the many important benefits of sleep and help you to teach your little one to establish a healthy sleep routine for the rest of their lives.

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