Updated: Jun 6, 2021
On International Sleep Day, WyeSleep's Joanna Kippax shares the reasons why regular sleep is so important to our health and how to make sure we get enough of it!
Joanna Kippax I WyeSleep I 19 March 2021
If you were offered a pill that could make you live longer, enhance your memory, reduce your risk of heart disease, diabetes, cancer, and strokes, lift your mood, help you lose weight and generally make you feel happier, would you be interested?? Oh, yes…… and I forgot to mention it was free!!
It sounds like a miracle cure doesn’t it?!!
Actually, these are just some of the benefits of sleep!
Today, as it's World Sleep Day, the sleep community are raising awareness of the importance of regular sleep for a healthy future.
Does the timing of your sleep make any difference? Surely sleep is sleep?
Being tucked up into bed at night is not the whole picture…….
All the physical and mental systems in our body’s are controlled by circadian rhythms, 24-hour cycles, which are part of an internal body clock.
The most well-known rhythm is the sleep-wake cycle, which “tells” the body when to be asleep. This is controlled by the master clock situated in our brain, which is triggered by light, exercise, mealtimes, social contact, and temperature.
Over the course of 24 hours, different signals are being sent to each part of the body to regulate activity to each organ. If you have ever experienced jet lag, you will know how it feels when your body clock is “out of sync” and not aligned.
When we have a regular sleep-wake cycle, the light exposure during the day signals to the body to be alert, and active. This in turn signals to our digestive system to function, enabling our bodies to use and process the food we eat and so it goes on.
When we eat at night, when the body is not “expecting” food, the hormones required to manage our blood sugar and consequently our weight, are “offline” and therefore not readily available.
So, research has shown that sleeping at irregular times of the day or night, disturbs our circadian rhythms and increases the risk of heart disease, obesity, cancer, diabetes, dementia, and a whole host of other chronic medical health conditions.
Imagine a group of people running a race and holding a rope. Ideally if they were all running at the same speed, and in synchrony, they would get across a finishing line together! Perfect! Easy!
Starting at a different time, running at different speeds etc would lead to chaos!!
In the same way, our bodies like routine!
So how can we support our circadian system to get regular, good quality sleep?
1) Know your chronotype! Are you a “morning lark”, preferring to settle early and wake early in the morning, or a “night owl”, settling to sleep later, and waking later in the morning? If you are a late settler, and you go to bed too early, you may be lying awake for hours! This could give you the false impression you have a sleep problem! We are all different. So, only go to bed when you are sleepy, not just because its “bedtime”! Just as every day our activity levels are different, so our need for sleep (sleep drive) will also be different!
2) Wake at the same time every day. This helps to set the body clock and allow the body to expect sleep at a similar time every night.
3) Get into the morning light!! 20-30 minutes preferably outside, will trigger the body clock and signal to the body that it is daytime. If you cannot be outside, consider the use of a daylight lamp, especially in the winter months when it can be dark inside.
4) Put your mind to bed, before your body!!
5) Exercising every day builds the physical need for sleep. A day in front of a screen might make you feel fatigued, but your body may not be physically tired.
6) If you work shifts, try to avoid eating during the night, and sleep as close to your natural pattern as you can.
Regular sleep for a healthy future!!
If you have a persistent problem with your sleep, or daytime tiredness, seek medical advice as treatment is available.
Sleep Practitioner and nurse prescriber.
WyeSleep: Founder and Director.
The Sleep Retreat: Founder and Director
Joanna Kippax is a sleep practitioner and nurse prescriber with 35 years of expertise and experience in the NHS. In 2018, Joanna founded WyeSleep, a sleep health service based in Herefordshire, which offers assessment, and treatment for clients of all ages with a range of sleep problems. Joanna now sees clients on a 1:1 basis for treatment of insomnia using cognitive behavioural therapy for insomnia (CBTI) and enjoys sleep education for corporate clients, supporting their workforce to maximise their health and productivity.
In 2020, The Sleep Retreat was founded. The retreats are designed for those who are having difficulty with their sleep. It is a relaxing weekend away in a boutique hotel where guests can enjoy sessions that focus on improving sleep and treating insomnia, interspersed with some practical, relaxing yoga classes.