Waking up to the amazing benefits of sleep

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Want to curb cravings, manage your weight, feel mentally strong and cruise through your day no matter what comes your way? Get eight hours of sleep!

When you're in a rush to meet work, training, school, family, or household responsibilities, do you cut back on your sleep? You might think that sleep is merely a "down time" when the brain shuts off and the body rests, but it is now known that sleep has distinctive cycles throughout the night. Your brain stays active when you’re sleeping, and while certain stages of sleep are indeed designed to help us feel well rested, other stages help us to learn and make memories. Many vital tasks carried out during sleep help maintain good health and enable us to function at our best. So when we don’t get enough sleep it can affect us in many ways.

We need sleep to think clearly, react quickly and create memories. We need sleep to dominate our fitness pursuits. Insufficient sleep affects our mood and can make us irritable. It’s also linked to poor behaviour and trouble with relationships, especially among children and teens. People who chronically lack sleep are also more likely to become depressed.

Sleep is also important for good health. Insufficient or poor-quality sleep on a regular basis increases the risk of high blood pressure, heart disease and other medical conditions. Hormones released during sleep also affect how the body uses energy, and the less people sleep, the more likely they are to be overweight or obese, to develop diabetes, and to prefer eating foods that are high in calories and carbohydrates.

So how much sleep is enough? It varies from person to person, and sleep needs change throughout the life cycle. Most adults need eight hours of sleep each night. Newborns, on the other hand, sleep between 16 and 18 hours a day, and children in preschool sleep between 10 and 12 hours a day. School-aged children and teens need at least nine hours of sleep a night.

Here are 12 tips to help you get a good night's sleep:

  • Stick to a sleep schedule: go to bed and wake up at the same time each day - even on the weekends.
  • Avoid caffeine and nicotine in the afternoon and evening: the stimulating effects of caffeine in coffee, cola, tea and chocolate can take as long as eight hours to wear off fully. Nicotine is also a stimulant.
  • Avoid alcoholic drinks before bed: a "nightcap" might help you get to sleep, but alcohol keeps you in the light stages of sleep. You also tend to wake up in the middle of the night when the sedating effects have worn off.
  • Avoid large meals and beverages late at night: a large meal can cause indigestion that interferes with sleep. Drinking too many fluids at night can cause you to awaken frequently to go to the loo.
  • Avoid medicines that delay or disrupt your sleep, if possible: some commonly prescribed heart, blood pressure, or asthma medications, as well as some over-the-counter herbal remedies for coughs, colds, or allergies, can disrupt sleep patterns.
  • Don't take naps after 3pm: naps can boost your brainpower, but late afternoon naps can make it harder to fall asleep at night. Also keep naps to under an hour.
  • Relax before bed: take time to unwind. A relaxing activity, such as reading or listening to music, should be part of your bedtime ritual.
  • Take a hot bath before bed: the drop in body temperature after the bath may help you feel sleepy, and the bath can help relax you.
  • Have a good sleeping environment: get rid of anything that might distract you from sleep, such as noises, bright lights, an uncomfortable bed, or a TV or computer in the bedroom. Also, keeping the temperature in your bedroom on the cool side can help you sleep better.
  • Have the right sunlight exposure: daylight is key to regulating daily sleep patterns. Try to get outside in natural sunlight for at least 30 minutes each day.
  • Don't lie in bed awake: if you find yourself still awake after staying in bed for more than 20 minutes, get up and so some relaxing activity until you feel sleepy. The anxiety of not being able to sleep can make it harder to fall asleep.
  • See your health provider if you continue to have trouble sleeping: if you consistently find yourself feeling tired or not well rested during the day despite spending enough time in bed at night, you may have a sleep disorder. Your family doctor or a sleep specialist should be able to help you.

As important as your nutrition and exercise is to a balanced life, getting eight hours of sleep each night is possibly more so. Sleep is the cornerstone of health, vitality and wellbeing, and the best part is, it’s free!

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Mareike Bout is a qualified and registered personal trainer who specialises in holistic fitness and lifestyle coaching. She is a recognised leader in the industry, receiving the peer-voted South Australia Personal Trainer of the Year award in 2008. She is also a regular guest on Adelaide’s top-rating radio station FIVEaa. Mareike runs her personal training business, One Life Live Well, both online and from a private studio in Adelaide. Services include one-on-one training, outdoor group fitness, lifestyle coaching and weight-loss programs. Individually tailored programs encompass aspects of exercise, nutrition, relaxation, positive thinking, life balance, and goal setting. Her approach is to guide, support and educate her clients so that they posses the tools required to live a life of health, strength and vitality!