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Rest well

Mita Mistry explores the healing power of a good night’s sleep and offers some tips for getting some better shut-eye

Good sleep is essential for our health and happiness. Everything seems so much brighter after a good night’s shut-eye and most of us wish we had more. When your sleep is broken, you’re likely to feel drowsy or forgetful and nothing seems right. Sleep issues affect 45 per cent of the world’s population, which is hardly surprising when so many of us are bogged down by to-do lists and constantly bombarded with stimuli. Good quality sleep helps your body to recover and allows you to wake up refreshed. Read on to tune in to the power of sleep.

What is sleep?

Sleep allows your brain and body to slow down and engage in recovery processes. Disrupting these complex processes has a negative impact on your wellbeing. During sleep, you go through four to five sleep cycles and each cycle consists of four distinct sleep stages. These four stages are broken down further into rapid eye movement (REM) sleep and non-REM (NREM) sleep – both are important and have very different functions. Stages one to three are NREM sleep, which enables restoration in the form of building muscles, regenerating cells and strengthening your immune system.

Stage one is short – dozing off to sleep. Stage two is when your body and mind slow down while you fall asleep. It’s easy to be woken during these stages. Deep sleep happens during stage three, when brain activity slows and your body rests further into recovery and healing. Stage four is REM sleep, when brain activity increases to similar levels to when you’re awake, which is why this stage is linked to intense dreams. Curiously, our heart rate and breathing elevate during this stage but most muscles are inactive, preventing us from playing out those dreams. Each sleep cycle lasts between 70 and 120 minutes.

Good sleep, good health

Good-quality sleep can do so much for you. When your body gets the sleep it needs, your immune system also gets the rest it needs to boost your immunity and fight off pathogens such as colds and other viruses. Studies show sleep helps prevent weight gain and improves memory, processing and consolidating your memories from the day. Sleep also boosts your heart health by reducing cortisol levels, the presence of which makes your heart work harder, and allowing your heart the rest it needs to function healthily. Of course, sleep also boosts your daily mood and performance.

Know your body clock

The sleep–wake cycle is an example of a circadian rhythm. Your body has an internal clock which regulates vital functions. The circadian rhythm is a 24-hour cycle that influences alertness, hunger, metabolism, fertility and mood and is synchronised with the main body clock in the brain. Daylight triggers your main body clock to send signals to keep you alert. As darkness falls, the main clock starts producing melatonin, a sleep-promoting hormone. It sends signals throughout the night to keep you asleep. Your circadian rhythm establishes your sleep–wake cycle with day and night, and when thrown off balance it leads to sleep problems and insomnia.

Sleep facts

Sleep self-care

Here are some tips on how to get better sleep and lift your mood.

Set a regular bedtime
The sleep–wake cycle is part of your body clock over a 24-hour period. By following a regular bedtime and waking up at the same time every day, you are helping to keep this very important function in sync and reducing the risk of disruptive sleep. Set a time you want to fall asleep and wake up. Use an old-fashioned alarm clock so you can keep phones and electronic devices in another room to prevent any scrolling urges.

Sleepy superfoods
Many proteins, nutrients and hormones work together to promote good sleep and regulate your sleep cycle. Try eating foods which include sleep-friendly amino acids and minerals, such as potassium, tryptophan and magnesium, in the run-up to bedtime to help settle your mind and body. Almonds, walnuts, kiwis, oily fish, lettuce, cherries, blueberries and kale are just some of the foods that enhance sleep quality. Research shows carotenoids, such as lutein, found in egg yolks, can improve your sleep too.

Essential oils
Essential oils are marvellous for their powerful calming effect on our mood – and they’re simple to use for sleep-promoting rituals. Of course, there are many essential oils, all with their own fragrances, so find ones that you’re drawn to. Try any of these super-effective oils: anxiety-relieving ylang-ylang, mood-lifting bergamot, mind-relaxing lavender, insomnia-soothing vetiver, stress-calming sweet orange, tension-releasing cedarwood, emotion-balancing geranium and tranquillizing chamomile. Add a few drops to your bath, use diffuser sticks, sprinkle some droplets on your pillow or make a sleep-boosting pillow mist.

Get enough sleep
Most of us need between 7 and 9 hours of shut-eye every night. Teenagers and children need a lot more. Factors such as work demands, daily niggles, health and sleeping environment can stop you from getting enough sleep. Of course, healthy lifestyle habits can positively impact sleep quality. But sometimes people get so used to sleep deprivation that it becomes normalised and they run on empty even though their brains and bodies struggle. This can lead to a higher risk of conditions such as obesity, diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure, poor mental health and even to premature death.

Extracted from All You Need is Rest by Mita Mistry, published by Vie, £8.99.

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