DR. NINA RADCLIFF For the press
Alertness, mood, and energy are all linked to your sleep. In addition, insufficient sleep increases the risk of obesity, type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, depression, stroke and mental decline, and Alzheimer’s dementia.
Getting a good night’s sleep—feeling rested, rejuvenated, and refreshed—is about more than just getting the recommended number of hours of sleep. For many years, the focus has been on quantity and little on quality. However, quality is important – it might be even more important – because not all sleep is restful.
By understanding the basics and adopting healthy sleep habits, you can get both the quantity and quality of sleep you need.
What is restful sleep? In the past, this term was widely used but poorly defined. New research aims to assess restful sleep in terms of whether the person was in a good mood, rested, refreshed, energetic, mentally alert and ready to start the day. Or were they grumpy, tired, or sleepy?
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When we look at sleep, the parameters matter. Previous studies have found that only three out of ten people had trouble sleeping when they focused on quantity (number of hours) rather than quality. However, when a person wakes up feeling awful, even if their sleep was the right amount, it’s important to record it. And recent research that focuses on quality, or restful sleep, has found that, on average, seven out of 10 people actually need help to improve their sleep. Just using the amount grossly underestimates the problem of insomnia. And given the myriad associated problems of insufficient sleep, this is problematic.
What happens during the restful sleep phases?
There is a misconception that sleep is an opportunity for our brain and body to switch off and rest. But in reality it is a time of rebuilding and recovery. During restful sleep phases:
Our brain shifts to a more thrifty role that involves removing toxins that build up while you’re awake.
We store new information and discard what is not needed (like a download of computer data).
Our nerve cells communicate and reorganize (supports healthy brain function).
We repair cells in the brain and throughout the body.
Our body builds bones and muscles.
We strengthen our immune system.
Our bodies release hormones and proteins.
These complex functions do not begin immediately with sleep, but require going through different stages of sleep. The American Academy of Sleep Medicine has identified four stages of sleep, each distinguished by neurological activity. The first two phases are characterized by lighter sleep. The last two deeper stages (one of which is REM, Rapid Eye Movement, where the person dreams) are considered restorative. Our body goes through these phases every 2 hours.
Conversely, non-restorative sleep is restless, light, or of poor quality. And while the time or duration of a good night’s sleep is important, it’s just as important (if not more so) that sleep gives your body and mind the restful rest it needs.
Tips for a restful sleep
First and foremost, establish and maintain good sleep hygiene — the routines and rituals you engage in before bed.
Stick to a sleep and wake-up routine, even on weekends, public holidays and days off. It is difficult for our bodies to adjust properly to the school or work schedule we have on Monday or at the end of the holidays. It can be very annoying.
Create a relaxing bedtime routine. This allows you to relax. Most of us don’t have an on/off button when it comes to falling asleep. We have to change. Find relaxing activities to do about an hour before bed to help you fall asleep.
Get your melatonin up by turning off and turning off the lights. Melatonin is a sleep hormone that is suppressed by both natural and artificial light. This includes light bulbs, televisions, smartphones, laptops and computers. Make an active effort to stop sending and replying to text messages and emails before bed.
Avoid sleeping too late and experiencing sleep inertia. This increases your chances of falling into deep sleep stages that are more difficult to wake up from. And when you do that, you may feel confused or exhausted.
Keep alcohol and caffeine consumption to a minimum. Avoid stimulants altogether. If you have trouble sleeping, avoid caffeinated products, including tea, chocolate, and sodas — which also contain caffeine. The effects of caffeine can last 3 to 7 hours after consumption.
Being active earlier in the day (just 30 minutes a day) can improve your sleep quality as well as your overall health.
Along with a healthy diet, physical activity, avoiding hazardous substances, and managing stress, maintaining your sleep hygiene is key to an overall healthy life.
dr Nina Radcliff, of Galloway Township, is a physician of anaesthesiology, medical television writer and textbook author. Send questions to Dr. Nina via email to [email protected] with “Dr. Nina” in the subject.
This article is for general information only and should not be used to diagnose or treat any medical condition and cannot replace the advice of your doctor.