How important is sleep to you? Do you love early nights, long lie-ins and lazy Sunday mornings snuggled up under the duvet? Or do you believe sleep is a luxury that you quite simply don’t have time for? Some people seem to be able to survive – and even thrive – on minimal shut-eye, yet for others, a decent night of rest is crucial. But why is sleep so important? Amazingly, there are so many benefits that it really should be top of all of our priority lists.
They say those who have had a decent sleep every night are more productive because their brains function better. Their concentration levels are also higher and their focus is sharper, meaning that their performance levels will be superior to the levels of those who struggle to get adequate rest. Ever wondered why you can’t remember things? Chances are that lack of sleep is playing a part in your foggy memory. Likewise, if you’re struggling to solve a simple problem or, like me, if you can’t watch a film for more than five minutes without nodding off, then this is definitely a clue that you need to re-address your sleep schedule.
It’s tricky to balance work, life, parenting and sleep – I know this first-hand. My alarm goes off for work at 2.30am six days a week. In order to get the recommended eight hours of sleep, I’d need to go to bed at 6.30pm every evening, including a Saturday night, and, quite frankly, this is not going to happen. So, we need to make sure we find a way to get some decent kip, which may mean sacrificing things that are not as important. For me, disappointingly, my social life has had to take a knock as I’m generally in bed by 8pm – rock and roll, I know! Then, on the day of the week when I don’t have to get up, I allow myself a lie-in. I may even sleep until 8 or 9am (which doesn’t sound that late but it gives me six hours more sleep than on weekdays) and I feel like a new person.
Good sleep is important for your mind and fitness – a decent amount of sleep will stabilise your emotions, keeping your mental health in a positive place. Plus, when it comes to exercise ability, it’s crucial. Athletes credit it as a key part of their training. Longer sleep has been proven to improve speed, accuracy and reaction times by a significant amount. Less sleep accounts for reduced strength, slower reactions, limited pace and greater difficulty performing an independent activity – which explains why it can be a struggle in the gym after a late night.
In addition, for those of us keen to maintain a healthy weight, sleep is key. Those who get less than the required amount are more likely to gain weight, and sleep deprivation is a proven contributing factor when it comes to obesity. By staying awake for excessive periods of time, you’re more inclined to forget to eat fruit and vegetables and reach for the rubbish in the food cupboard. This consumption of biscuits, sweets, crisps and other empty calories will in turn prevent you from developing any regular eating habits, which is vital for a healthy lifestyle. I eat junk when I’m tired and that makes me feel more sluggish – it’s a vicious circle but, if you can control it, you’ll be heading in the right direction.
The ultimate truth is that sleep is key to good health. So, if you struggle to achieve adequate sleep, my tip to you – and to myself – is to slowly introduce little changes. Try winding down 10 minutes earlier every night and limit all tech before bed to really help your body switch off and relax. Perhaps wear a fitness tracker at night to monitor your sleeping habits so you can identify how much you’re getting daily. It’s never too late to make a change!