Sleep – Why is it so important and how you can optimise it?

It might seem strange for a physiotherapist to discuss your sleep habits with you, but modern research tells us that sleep is vital for so much more than just feeling well rested. Good, quality sleep helps to improve mood, increase recovery times from injury and assist in focussing on tasks at work or school. Often during a consultation with one of the physiotherapists in Camberwell at Instinct Health, we will discuss your sleep habits to establish if, and how, sleep is impacting on you.

Throughout the night, we will actually go four cycles of sleep – with a full cycle lasting for between 90-120 minutes. The four stages of sleep are:
Stage 1: Light NREM (Non-Rapid Eye Movement) sleep

This is the first and lightest stage of sleep. In this phase we are likely to respond to noises and stimuli around us. If we are “woken” from this phase of sleep, we are unlikely to claim we were actually asleep. Picture falling asleep watching TV (and we will discuss the negative ramifications of this later!) and you dose during the ad-breaks, only to wake up again at a loud noise on the show.

Stage 2: The first defined stage of NREM sleep, and slightly deeper sleep than Stage 1

This is again “light” sleeping, however we start to get activity of the brain during this stage. In this phase, we begin to consolidate memories laid down throughout the day prior. The neurons in our brain also work to fight off outside noises to ensure we can sleep. During this phase our body temperature drops slightly, and our heart rate slows too.

Stage 3: Deep NREM sleep

This is the “restorative” phase of our sleep. We are very unlikely to be woken from this stage however we do get some uncommon events at the time. Despite this being a deep sleep phase, the brain is still working and those who talk in their sleep or sleepwalk, will do so in this stage!

Stage 4: REM (Rapid Eye Movement) sleep

This phase of sleep is our “dreaming” phase. Quite literally, our eye movements are rapid in this phase and our brain is more active than stages 2 and 3. If we are woken up during a REM stage, we are likely to feel groggy or very tired.

Now that we have some understanding of the mechanics of sleep, let’s explore some of the benefits of sleep. Some of these include:

  • Maintain weight by regulating hormones
  • Fight infections or illnesses
  • Reduce stress
  • Improve mood
  • Make the brain more efficient and productive (during the day)
  • Improve memory
  • Lower blood pressure
  • Reduce pain
  • Reduce risk of type 2 diabetes
  • Reduce risk of heart attack through reducing inflammation and stress on the heart

It’s all well and good to know the benefits of sleep, but how can you practically improve your sleep habits? Follow these tips below and see how much better you’re feeling!

  1. Reduce exposure to blue light before bed

Blue light is that which is emitted from our screens. As we discussed earlier, falling in front of the TV at night happens, but is it the right thing to do? Definitely not! Blue light causes the suppression of melatonin – our hormone that is released to promote sleep. By supressing melatonin, we can effect our sleep stages and prevent deeper sleep earlier in the night.

  • Practice meditation prior to going to bed

Practicing meditation can help to calm the mind prior to going to sleep. Are you someone who has thousands of thoughts flying around your head prior to going to sleep? Then this might help to settle your mind. Don’t know how to meditate? There are plenty of great apps available (that will cease once completed, so you aren’t having to look at your phone again) that can guide you through a series of meditations. Try Calm, Buddhify or The Resilience Project as a starting point. You can also do some light, calming yoga as a mild moving meditation.

  • Have a regular bed time

One of the problems people have with jetlag is the disruption to the regular sleep habits. By having a regular bed time, and sticking to it, can be of huge benefits to our body. Our bodies start to form good sleep habits and will begin the secretion of the melatonin hormone at the same time each and every night – meaning we sleep more efficiently!

  • Make the environment comfortable

This means more than just having a comfy bed (see tip number 5). Setting a slightly cooler temperature (21-23°) is ideal, and ensuring you have a dark bedroom and quiet from street noise are all vital components. This will allow you to fall from Stage 1 to Stages 2 & 3 as quickly as possible.

  • Ensure your bed set up is right for you

Getting the right bed that is firm enough or soft enough is crucial to your set up. Getting a pillow that facilitates good neck and shoulder position will also ensure you are comfortable when trying to get to sleep and importantly, stay asleep. Having a good, pillow, and sleeping position and a routine of shoulder exercises can be used to help deal with shoulder osteoarthritis

Our physios at Instinct Health can help to provide information on some characteristics you should look for in a bed and pillow depending on your body type.

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Sleep – Why is it so important and how you can optimise it?