The importance of making time for sleep

The perfect amount of sleep? Just five minutes more…


Sleep is as important to our health and emotional wellbeing as eating smart and exercising daily, so if you find yourself dozing off while reading this article, don’t put it down to the quality of the writing, take it as a wake-up call that you may not be getting enough rest.

Enjoying a sound sleep is incredibly important for all sorts of reasons, not least because the way we feel upon awakening can shape our whole day. It affects how we think, react, perform at work, learn and even how we interact with others. It can make it harder to control our emotions such as anger, impulsiveness, feeling sad or depressed, even induce mood swings. Tiredness can help us lose our motivation, while lack of sleep affects how our body reacts to insulin. This can result in higher than normal blood sugar levels, which can increase our risk of diabetes. Our immune system also relies on proper rest to keep us healthy, as lack of sleep can stop our body fighting common infections such as cold and flu. Meanwhile sleep deficiency has been linked to heart disease, diabetes, high blood pressure and stroke, while it has also shown to increase the risk of obesity.

The most important benefit from proper shut-eye time is that we are restored. Sleep is the mechanism whereby our bodies rebalance, allowing our minds to process the events of the day, our bodies to rest and digest and even our immune system to better protect us. We neglect it at our peril, but like so much in the field of wellness, this is nothing new.

Burning the candle…

The science understanding and proving the importance of sleep may be more advanced, but the phrase ‘burning the candle at both ends’ is still a perfect metaphor for the dangers of not getting enough proper rest. Meaning a life lived frenetically and unsustainably, the phrase originally had a literal reference to both ends of the candle being set alight. Ironically, this understanding of the impact is quite insightful; candles may only be lit at both ends when held horizontally, which makes the process very wasteful, causing them to burn out fast, as many a twenty-something can testify…

And don’t think eating smart and exercising can make up for lack of sleep

Sleep is vital for health in part because of its role in the production of melatonin. Foods encouraging the production of melatonin include dairy products (milk, cheese, yogurt), eggs, soybeans, nuts and seeds, mango, bananas, whole grains and cherries, while foods containing vitamin B5, which helps make melatonin are, sweet potatoes, lentils, mushrooms, broccoli, avocados and collard greens. But it’s not just about food; darkness is also important, because it stimulates melatonin production.

The importance of melatonin

Melatonin is a hormone, segregated by the pineal gland in the brain, with both water and fat soluble properties, making it one of the only known antioxidants in nature that can protect all parts of a cell.  Indeed, recent evidence suggests that melatonin plays a critical role in free radical scavenging activities, preserving DNA, protein and lipid from oxidative damage.  Studies have shown that low levels of melatonin may be associated with hormone-dependent cancers such as breast, prostate, testicular and ovarian, as melatonin has a calming effect on reproductive hormones. Melatonin helps control the timing and release of female reproductive hormones.  Preliminary evidence suggests that its antioxidant properties may help strengthen the immune system.

The irony is that not only is melatonin important for our health, adequate levels are also necessary for a good night’s sleep, with its production further increased by darkness.

No escaping the need for sleep

Stop fighting the natural impulse so sleep when it’s dark. In fact, embrace it, making bedrooms conducive to sleep; dark with no bed-lights and black-out curtains – and no smart phones. Daytime exercise and bright light exposure will also promote a regular circadian rhythm (sleep clock) of melatonin.  Then, at day’s end adopt habits preparing for sleep: avoid caffeine as well as spicy and heavy foods to reduce the risk of insomnia.  Meals to eat for a goodnight’s sleep might include: wholemeal pita bread and hummus, mango yogurt smoothie, eggs on whole grain toast, peanut butter and banana sandwich, porridge sprinkled with nuts, grilled cheese on whole wheat bread, or to drink – a glass of warm milk.

Then sleep sound and reap its benefits.

Note of caution: Before you consider melatonin supplements check with your doctor first, as they could be potential side effects or interactions with medication.

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Iris is the founder of No Targets Just Routine. She has researched food since 2009 and believes “Happiness is real food shared with loved ones.”

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