Now, I know anyone with young children or infants will probably be laughing – or sobbing – at the idea of being able to even imagine such a wonderful luxury as a sleepcation, but for anyone else who is sleep deprived, an escape to a resort (or perhaps simply to a quiet local hotel) to just sleep and rest is probably a better idea for your health than you may imagine. At some point over the next six weeks such therapy might benefit us all.
The importance of sleep
Eat Smart, Exercise Daily and Sleep Sound pretty much sums up the key elements of a healthy lifestyle. Yet while many of us still consider sleep to be the junior partner in this trinity, it is becoming recognised as the foundation upon which the benefits of a good diet and exercise rest in constructing a healthy lifestyle. To put it simply, sleep is vital for optimal health, essential for both mental and physical wellbeing, as already outlined in Sleep: make time for bed.
While we sleep our body is working to support healthy brain function, while also maintaining our general health, for example, balancing our appetite hormones, ghrelin and leptin, which play a part in determining our feelings of hunger and fullness.
It’s no secret that sleep affects us in how we look, feel and in our performance of daily tasks. Studies have shown getting 7-8 hours’ sleep a night improves our attention span and ability to learn, aiding also with decision making and being creative.
Yet the risks associated with sleep deficiency are underestimated by many, while the risks associated with too much sleep will probably come as a complete surprise.
Sleep – neither too little nor too much
Sleep deficiency can raise the risk of chronic health problems, such as heart disease, stroke, diabetes, high blood pressure and frequent mental distress, while it can also increase the risk of obesity and all-cause mortality. Sleep deficiency has been linked to depression, risk-taking behaviour and even suicide. Sleep is important for hormone balance, with sleep deficiency resulting in higher than normal blood sugar levels, while our immune system relies on adequate sleep to stay in optimal shape.
According to research from the American Stroke Association’s International Stroke Conference 2016:
- people who slept 7-8 hours/night were 25% less likely to have experienced a stroke
- people who slept less than 7 hours/night were 22% more likely to have reported having a stroke
- people who slept more than 8 hours/night were 146% more likely to have suffered a stroke
Increased sleep duration has also been associated with weight gain and with a modest increased risk of diabetes in middle-aged and older women. Decreased sleep duration has been associated with poor food choices and lack of physical activity.
Why we need to sleep
While we sleep our brain uses this precious ‘downtime’ to sort through the daily experiences we have encountered, filing the important information. So, a bad night’s sleep can interrupt this process and lead to impaired mental function. Not allowing your body the time to carry out this essential function over the longer term has been associated with Alzheimer’s.
If our sleep is cut short our body does not have the time to complete all the critical phases that are important in addition to memory consolidation, such as muscle repair and hormone regulation.
Can we recover lost sleep?
It is increasingly accepted that longer-term sleep deficits cannot be recovered, however, a recent study seemed to offer hope that short term sleep deficits might be a different story. As reported in Sleep deficits: are you in debt and danger? individuals who managed just a few hours’ sleep each night during the week, but then had longer sleeps over the weekends to make it up, were found to have no raised mortality risk, compared with those who consistently stuck to six or seven hours a night. So, if nothing else, a sleepcation might help you start to form better habits.
Sleep in the 21st Century
Everyone faces an increasingly hectic lifestyle, often compounded by the 24/7 nature of our wired lives, with multiple sources of mental stimulation through phones and social media day and night. But a healthy sleeping routine is a habit we really should adopt to avoid unnecessary health issues:
- Switch off electronic devices and keep them out of the bedroom to reduce insomnia risk
- Keep the bedroom cooler that your regular ‘waking’ space
- Establish a regular bedtime to help your body adopt a rhythm that makes it ready for sleep
- Darkness is important, as it stimulates the production of melatonin, a powerful hormone which is vital for sleep
- Banish night-time snacks
- Avoid caffeine in the evenings and go light on alcohol
Nutrition and exercise are also key components in helping you sleep. Eating real food, exercising daily; both will help you sleep sound. So, enjoy your sleepcation: Relax, Rebase, Recharge, Return Refreshed – and with better sleeping Routines!
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