• Switching back the clocks: The importance of sleep to our health


        This weekend the clocks turn back and British Summertime ends. Whilst we  all look forward to an extra hour in bed on Sunday, it is worth remembering the health benefits of a good night’s sleep.

        Sleep is an essential function for us and is a time when our body cells are able to repair and regenerate. Our wake/sleep cycle is controlled by our own internal body clock called our Circadian Rhythm which, like the earth’s rotation, follows approximately a 24 hour cycle. This Circadian timing  is controlled by the hypothalamus in the brain which behaves like an internal pacemaker, synchronising this cycle throughout all our cells, tissue and organs.

        External cues such as solar light, temperature, exercise and meal times also helps with this synchronisation process and these need to adapt as the seasons and external influences change.

        Circadian Rhythm timing can, however, change from one person to the next, although the average phase lasts for 24.2 hours. We most notice disruption to this process when we fly long distance and travel rapidly through time zones and can experience jet lag, which is a symptom of the body misaligning with the destination time and trying to re-synchronise. People who work shifts or struggle with insomnia can also suffer, and in all situations a range of psychological and emotional problems can emerge, including depression, anxiety, infertility, excessive sleepiness, hormonal disruption and gastro-intestinal diseases. These can also create social problems such as an inability to perform at work and stress in relationships.

        A number of treatments are available aimed at managing these disorders by working at re-synchronising the body’s internal mechanisms, and these include timed light therapy, timed vigorous exercise, and supplementation with melatonin (only available on prescription in the UK). Acupuncture, acupressure and homeopathy have also been suggested as effective alternative therapies but nutrition is also thought to play an important role in the quality and quantity of your sleep.

        Now that winter is closing in and we have longer nights to enjoy, it is worth trying to build more sleep into your routine. Whilst everyone varies, an average an adult needs between 7.5 and 9 hours of quality sleep to perform well during the day, whilst a teenager often needs between 8.5 and 10 hours.

        Some of the main benefits of a decent night’s sleep are:

        • An improved immune system. Much of our repair and regrowth happens whilst we are asleep, so a chronic lack of sleep could contribute to an increase in anything from colds and flu to heart disease, hormonal imbalance and diabetes.
        • Reduced inflammation: During sleep we release lower levels of inflammatory proteins which can help support our heart and immune systems and also be beneficial for any pain and inflammatory issues such as arthritis.
        • Weight loss support: Our metabolism is thought to improve whilst we sleep so use the time to burn off more calories without even trying! Healthy diet and exercise during waking hours are obviously key factors as well!
        • Reduced stress: Blood pressure and cholesterol levels are thought to be lower at night.
        • Improved memory:Harvard study suggests our brain processes information whilst we are asleep so use the time to help consolidate anything you have learned during the day.

         For more information about how to manage your health through diet and    lifestyle changes if you work shifts or struggle with sleep problems, contact us.