Why Sleep Matters to Your Overall Health and Top Hacks to Improve Yours

Lockdowns and winter weather have made for a bleak few months recently. So it’s time to check in and make sure your health isn’t suffering. All throughout April, we are asking our customers to take the time to think about one aspect of their health each week and look to make a positive change. We’re giving you a breakdown of why these areas are important, tips on how to take some action, and we’re also asking you to take part in our #Alimentwellnessmonth challenge - tag us and use the hashtag to show and tell us the changes you’re making. This week, it’s all about sleep.

Sleep - Are You Getting Enough?

Getting enough zzzzzz’s at night is one of the most important things we can do for our health but is often one of the most neglected. Late night Netflix binges and taking the office home and working into the night may push back bedtime and reduce the quantity of sleep. The record for the longest period without sleep is reported to be 18 days, 21 hours, 40 minutes during a rocking chair marathon (1). The record holder reported hallucinations, paranoia, blurred vision, slurred speech and memory and concentration lapses. We hope that no one reading this is getting anywhere near that level of deprivation. But how much do we need to deprive ourselves of sleep before we start to see negative effects on our wellbeing?

‘Short sleep’ is defined as getting less than an average of 7 hours shut eye each night - how many of us are regularly getting that much sleep? Not only that, how many people toss and turn and struggle getting good quality of sleep? No matter which way you look at it, so many of us are sabotaging one of the easiest, and most essential, forms of mental and physical recovery around.

Short sleep’ is defined as getting less than an average of 7 hours shut eye each night

Health Effects

A 2017 study from the American Heart Association found a U shaped relationship between sleep duration and the risk of cardiovascular disease. Too little (<7 hours) and too much (>8 hours) sleep was associated with increased risks of coronary heart disease, stroke, and all cause mortality (2). A similar relationship has been found between sleep and its association with a higher late-life dementia risk (3). There certainly seems to be a Goldilocks situation - not too little, not too much. Day-to-day, a lack of sleep can affect our decision making, how our body responds to food, what foods we crave, our energy levels and motivation to exercise….you can start to see why a lack of good, quality sleep can increase our risk of disease later in life.

Should You Just Go To Bed Earlier?

For the small majority of people, the first step of course is to make sure you’re giving yourself the chance to get 7-8 hours sleep. If it’s after midnight before you think about putting your head on the pillow and the 5am alarm has already been set, there’s an obvious way to improve your sleep habits. However, this is not the case for the majority of people. Many of us manage to set aside enough hours ‘in bed’ in order to get enough hours counting sheep. The issues are falling asleep and staying asleep. We've listed some of the methods that have been shown to be effective in helping you fall asleep and then improving the overall quality of your sleep.

Sleep Hacks

  • Get offline - internet addiction is on the up. Almost 20% of Europeans have been found to have pathological or compulsive use of the internet (4). Those who compulsively use the internet have been shown to have more than twice the risk of suffering from disturbed sleep.
  • Put down the phone - more than just the effects of the internet, even just the light emitted from your phone or tablet can be keeping you up at night. Evening blue light (which is the predominant light emitted from LED screened phones) has been shown to suppress melatonin, which can negatively impact sleep quality. The light is effectively telling your brain that it is still daytime. Instead of picking up your phone, pick up a book. If you have to use screens at night, switch on the phone or tablet’s ‘night mode’ that will reduce the amount of blue light emitted.
  • Look after your gut - more and more is being discovered about the link between the bacteria that live in our guts (our microbiome) and our brains. It has been shown that the composition of our microbiome is associated with many aspects of sleep physiology. Although studies are in the early stages, there is some early evidence to show that probiotic supplements can improve sleep quality in healthy adults (5)
  • Nutrition - supplementing daily with vitamin D, magnesium, B vitamins, and vitamin C have all been suggested to improve sleep duration and quality (6). Kiwi fruits are high in vitamin C and E and their serotonin content has been suggested to be one of the mechanisms linking them to improvements in sleep. High glycaemic foods 1-2 hours before bed have been shown to help us get to sleep quicker, as has milk.
  • Relaxation techniques - if you are lying in bed and struggling to nod off, relaxation techniques could help. Meditation and yoga before bed may help you wind down while exercises like the 4-7-8 Breathing Exercise have been suggested to help you sleep in less than 60 seconds once you’ve mastered it (we’re yet to try it). When you are lying in bed, struggling to relax and switch off, another method to try is progressive muscle relaxation.
    • Take a deep breath and contract one muscle group at a time. Start with your lower extremities like your feet, and then move to your calves and thighs.
    • Contract for 5-10 seconds before releasing your breath and releasing the tension
    • Move up to your middle extremities like your bum and stomach.
    • Finish off with your arms, hands, chest, shoulders, neck, and lastly face. Focus on particular tension points like a tight jaw or tense shoulders.
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The Challenge

Whether it is one of the techniques above or something else, we want to see how you’re improving your sleep. Here’s the challenge: 

  • start a handwritten sleep journal - forget the fancy phone apps. Each morning, write down what time you went to bed, how easy it felt to drift off, and what time you woke up
  • commit to taking 1 or 2 steps to improving

head over to our facebook or instagram pages and tag us with your photo of your sleep journal and let us know what steps you’re taking to look after you sleep this month. Make sure to use the hashtag #alimentwellnessmonth

References

1) Yin, J., Jin, X., Shan, Z., Li, S., Huang, H., Li, P., ... & Liu, L. (2017). Relationship of sleep duration with all‐cause mortality and cardiovascular events: a systematic review and dose‐response meta‐analysis of prospective cohort studies. Journal of the American Heart Association, 6(9), e005947.

2) Sindi, Shireen, Ingemar Kåreholt, Lena Johansson, Johan Skoog, Linnea Sjöberg, Hui‐Xin Wang, Boo Johansson et al. "Sleep disturbances and dementia risk: a multicenter study." Alzheimer's & Dementia 14, no. 10 (2018): 1235-1242.

3) Alimoradi, Zainab, Chung-Ying Lin, Anders Broström, Pia H. Bülow, Zahra Bajalan, Mark D. Griffiths, Maurice M. Ohayon, and Amir H. Pakpour. "Internet addiction and sleep problems: A systematic review and meta-analysis." Sleep medicine reviews 47 (2019): 51-61.

4) Smith, Robert P., Cole Easson, Sarah M. Lyle, Ritishka Kapoor, Chase P. Donnelly, Eileen J. Davidson, Esha Parikh, Jose V. Lopez, and Jaime L. Tartar. "Gut microbiome diversity is associated with sleep physiology in humans." PLoS One 14, no. 10 (2019): e0222394.

5) Marotta, Angela, Eleonora Sarno, Antonio Del Casale, Marco Pane, Luca Mogna, Angela Amoruso, Giovanna E. Felis, and Mirta Fiorio. "Effects of probiotics on cognitive reactivity, mood, and sleep quality." Frontiers in psychiatry 10 (2019): 164.

6) Doherty, Rónán, Sharon Madigan, Giles Warrington, and Jason Ellis. "Sleep and nutrition interactions: Implications for athletes." Nutrients 11, no. 4 (2019): 822.