BY Dr. Sanjiva Wijesinha
All of us need a good night’s sleep. This might sound obvious but what’s surprising is how many people actually get a good night’s sleep. For adults, it is an average of between seven and eight hours over a 24 hour period.
Not only should the number of hours you sleep be adequate but the quality of this sleep (i.e. deep and restful) must also be sufficient.
Sleep is a time for rest, repair and rejuvenation for the body, following a day spent in physical and emotional activity.
While we sleep, channels in the brain – which constitute the recently discovered glymphatic system – open up and help not only to distribute essential nutrients such as glucose, amino acids and essential fats to the brain cells but also flush out waste materials.
Interestingly, we now know that this glymphatic system functions mainly during sleep – and it is essentially disengaged when we are awake.
During periods of deep sleep, our bodies produce substances such as cytokines and antibodies that are essential for our immune systems to function effectively.
And through the deepest periods of sleep (REM sleep that’s linked to periods of vivid dreaming), thoughts on most of the emotional events that occurred during the day are consolidated. These are processed and moved from our short-term to long-term memory.
This is considered important for your psychological health because if you don’t get enough REM sleep, you’d wake up feeling rather irritable.
So how can you ensure that you get enough sleep – in terms of hours and quality?
There are a few people who need only five or six hours’ sleep a night to function because they’re genetically programmed to operate on less than the average needed by the rest of us. However, most of us – even after we’re past retirement age – need between seven and nine hours of sleep each night.
It is most important to establish regular sleep habits. Try to get to bed about the same time each night – preferably around 9.30 p.m. or 10 o’clock.
Use your bed only for sleep – and if the occasion arises, for sex. You should not watch TV, study, or be working on your laptop or using a mobile phone. The blue light that emanates from electronic screens suppresses the sleep hormone melatonin and makes it more difficult to fall asleep.
Ideally, you shouldn’t look at electronic screens for an hour or so before it’s time to sleep.
Avoid consuming beverages such as coffee and tea, which contain caffeine, as well as aerated waters like colas before bedtime.
If you find yourself waking up in the early-morning hours – around 2 or 3 a.m. – and find it difficult to fall asleep again even after 10-15 minutes, the best advice would be to get out of bed.
Find a comfortable space, ideally one that you had prepared previously with some really boring books or magazines, or some gentle music for easy listening. Sit there, perhaps with a cup of warm milk, and sip it slowly.
Spend some time there until you feel relaxed and sleepy, then head back to bed. Simply lying in bed, worrying about not being able to sleep and how bad you will feel in the morning, is certainly the worst thing you can do.