Speaker Series: The Importance of Sleep May 2022

Isabel Galiano is an Integrative Nutrition Health Coach, Functional Medicine Practitioner, Certified Yoga Therapy Instructor and member of the Association of Naturopathic Practitioners (UK). She recently shared her extensive knowledge in the field of sleep with the SMMIS community.

There is a growing crisis of sleep deprivation. We sleep 25% less than we did 60 years ago. That amounts to 1-2 hours less sleep per night. Not only has the duration we sleep reduced but also the quality of that sleep. Many are unaware that they are sleep deprived, and we underestimate the importance of sleep at our peril.

The risk of illness increases when sleep deprived because so much of sleep is connected to our immune system. Every function of our brain is affected by a lack of sleep but especially the prefrontal area which is responsible for our decision-making abilities. Our nutrition is impacted by cravings for sugar which are induced by lack of sleep. Our mental health is affected with anxieties and sensitivities exacerbated by a lack of sleep. In children, a lack of sleep can impact their physical growth, their ability to absorb and retain information. Among students there is a correlation between poor sleep and grades, and dropping out of school/college.

So, what can we do? A good place to start is by keeping a sleep diary for two weeks. Note down the time you went to sleep and the time you woke up. Make a note of disruptions during the night and how you felt in the morning.

As a guideline, we should be able to fall asleep naturally within 20 minutes and should be getting the following amounts of sleep:

3-5 years old - 10-13 hours

6-13 years old - 9-11 hours

14-17 years old - 8-10 hours

Adults - 7-9 hours

Next, try to introduce some of the strategies below and see what affect they have on your sleep.

Good Habits for Better Sleep:

1. Follow the Circadian Rhythm – try to align you sleep closer to the natural circadian rhythm. Sleeping between 10pm-6am is much more beneficial than staying up late and sleeping between 2am-10am because deep sleep occurs between 11pm-3am. Conversely, it’s important to expose yourself to natural sunlight during the day but especially first thing in the morning. Consistency is key so try to maintain the same sleep patterns during the weekends and holidays.

2. Transition from Day to Night – dim your lights an hour before bed. In the evenings we start to naturally produce melatonin which aids sleep, but our bodies can’t do this in bright light.

3. Screens – avoid screens at least 90 minutes before going to sleep and at a very minimum 30 minutes beforehand. Try to turn the TV and your phone off at 9pm.

4. The Bedroom – make the bedroom into a cocoon exclusively for sleep.

5. Darkness – the darker the room the better the quality of sleep. Even if you use an eye mask, the skin receives light and is still affected

6. Temperature – it should be cooler to allow you body temperature to drop but not freezing (there’s no need to blast the aircon)

7. Bedding – change the sheets regularly; change your mattress every 10 years (in a cold climate) and every 5-7 years (in a hot and humid climate); change your pillows every 2 years

8. Electromagnetic Waves – charge you phone outside of the bedroom and invest in a traditional alarm clock.

9. Nutrition – following a healthy diet has so many benefits and isn’t the topic of this blog but do try to avoid sugary foods in the evening.

10. Exercise – exercise also has so many benefits but choose your timing. Do any intense exercise in the morning and avoid intense exercise 2 hours before bedtime.

11. Gratitude – yoga, breathing, mindfulness and gratitude practiced before bed are all beneficial. Ask your children for 3 things they are grateful for from the day before they go to sleep.

12. Hydration – ensure regular hydration during the day and enjoy herbal teas (organic is preferable) but not too close to bedtime.

13. Naps – In young children essential; in older children and adults naps can be beneficial but only if done right; make them no longer than 20 minutes and as far from bedtime as possible.

As a family, make sleep a core family value and top priority. Always talk positively about sleep and role model good sleep. Portray sleep as your child’s secret superpower which will let them grow stronger, run faster and perform better at school.