Hands up who would give their right arm for a decent night’s sleep? Okay, that’s a bit drastic, but you get the picture! Sleep is precious, yet so many of us don’t get enough quality shut-eye to fully reap its benefits. Sure, you can still function while running up a serious slumber debt, but sooner or later it catches up with you. Fuzzy thinking, low productivity, illness, irritability, weight gain, even relationship problems can all result from not sleeping well.
Do you sabotage sleep?
Why aren’t we sleeping well? There are a variety of reasons. One in 10 of us has some form of documented sleep disorder, such as insomnia or sleep apnoea (a potentially dangerous disorder that causes breathing to pause or become shallow during sleep), according to the Sleep Health Foundation of Australia. Many more of us have undiagnosed and, as a result, untreated problems, and lots of us are unwittingly doing things that sabotage our chances of deep, blissful slumber.
For example, experts say the rise in the bedtime use of backlit electronic devices is having a marked detrimental effect on our sleep health. All that latenight light interrupts the body’s production of the hormone melatonin, which is necessary for good sleep, and our brains simply can’t switch off sufficiently while we’re busy throwing angry birds at green pigs or still fielding work emails and texts at midnight.
And while some people use alcohol to relax in the evenings, or take prescription drugs or over-the-counter preparations in pursuit of better sleep, these can often cause more problems than they solve. Stress, anxiety or simply staying up too late every night can also play havoc with our slumber. Got a baby or young child who’s yet to grasp the finer points of sleep etiquette? Then fuhgeddaboudit!
Waking up to the solution
The good news is that a study carried out at the National Sleep Foundation in the US recently hit upon another critical reason why we’re not sleeping as well as we might. It’s one that’s so ridiculously easy to remedy, you’ll wonder why you didn’t think of it yourself. Exercise. The get-up-off-yourbottom kind that raises both your heart rate and a sweat. Along with sleep, physical activity is the other great all-natural cure-all. In fact, sleep and exercise work together in perfect harmony to revitalise our minds and bodies like nothing else can. (Except for maybe a twoweekvacation in Bora Bora.)
Let’s get physical
While we have long known about the sleep-enhancing benefits of regular exercise, the study reveals that the more intense the exercise is, the better. Even just 10 minutes of vigorous physical activity a day is enough to promote longer, deeper and more restful sleep. And what’s more, the conventional wisdom about not exercising in the few hours before you go to bed was also debunked.
People who managed to fit in a work-out of some kind at any time during the day – even right before hitting the sack – reported falling asleep faster and waking more refreshed than those who did no exercise at all.
Even though both groups in the study got about the same amount of sleep (just under seven hours a night), non-exercisers were more likely to have trouble staying awake during the day. They felt more lethargic and were more likely to seek out caffeine and sugar-laden pick-me-ups. They were also more likely to have symptoms of sleep apnoea.
Feel all the benefits
The upside of getting up off your backside and moving more goes way beyond improving sleep, although that’s certainly a great motivator. Exercise also has a beneficial impact on your overall health profile. It helps you burn fat and kilojoules, boosts immunity, improves flexibility and joint health, and does wonders for your emotional wellbeing. Even before you start to notice the physical benefits, it is a wonderful tonic for your soul and spirit. Yes, those feel-good endorphins come into play, but the very fact that you know you’re doing something positive for yourself is just as powerful.