We’ve written about sleep before. In fact, we’ve done it more than once. We’re passionate about sleep at MedicAlert.

Why? Because sleep quality is one of the most impactful elements of our lives. It’s on par with a good diet and regular exercise. In fact, it’s arguably more significant than diet and exercise. It might just be the foundation stone that those two pillars of life rest upon. Without good sleep, we make bad nutrition decisions and endure inefficient exercise.

In any case, none of these three areas need to be complicated, none of them take a great deal of effort and none of them should be neglected. But whilst all three areas are easy to pay attention to, they are equally easy to neglect.

We’ll revisit diet and exercise in the future. Right now, let’s pay attention to sleep.


Sleep 101:

The science of sleep is an area of medical science that, for the longest time, was impossible to truly analyse. Early sleep scientists and researchers were able to hypothesise and conduct some basic experiments regarding why sleep is a required element for humans, but it is really only in the last couple of decades that research has started to take us much further beyond the tip of the iceberg.

Sleep quality, has become an increasingly regular topic of discussion and focus for many, perhaps driven by a rise in big name advocates, including well-known tech entrepreneurs and highly successful publications

The fundamentals of sleep, however, remain unchanged, irrespective of fashion or trend. Sleeping is the body’s way of achieving rest and restoration. It affects your mental, as well as your physical, well-being and is an incredibly effective method of helping you to better deal with stress, to recover from illness and, perhaps unexpectedly, to creatively solve problems.

Sleep comprises of 5 stages:

  • Stage 0: Awake
  • Stages 1 - 2: Light sleep
  • Stages 3 - 4: Deep sleep
  • Stage 5: REM sleep

It is during REM sleep where our most vivid dreams take place, and is important for memory and mood. Light sleep makes up most of your night and promotes restoration, whilst deep sleep aids learning and memory. If you feel extra refreshed, it’s likely you got lots of deep sleep last night!


Image of a man napping on the sofa with a book on his face


How To Get a Good Night’s Sleep… Every Night

The frustrating thing about good sleep is that it can be elusive. There are many factors that can disrupt sleep quality and can ultimately push us further along the descending spiral, away from that holy grail of 8 uninterrupted hours of deep, restorative sleep.

The big question, therefore, is how can we nurture better quality sleep? The answer, mercifully, is easier than you might expect.

Our 12 Tips for Healthy Sleep is a good place to start if you are looking for a hit list of effective actions to help nurture good sleep habits.


1 – Commit to a sleep schedule

Routine is the mother of good sleep. Part of building a healthy sleep schedule is to understand your circadian rhythm. In other words, what is your natural sleep-wake cycle? Are you an early bird or a night owl? Once you find it, you can incrementally shift it back or forwards as you need until you hit the sweet spot of a schedule that compliments your lifestyle and needs best.

It’s a pattern that is, for best results, one you will ideally stick to religiously. This means waking up and going to sleep at the same time every day, including weekends. Continually changing the times you sleep and wake as well as the targeted hours spent asleep will lead you nowhere other than Frustrationville.

Insider Tip: It’s not possible to catch up with lost sleep.


2 – Be active

This is probably the contributing factor to a good night’s sleep that you are most aware of. Perhaps even most daunted by too. Exercise = better sleep.

As exercise raises your body temperature, the later drop in temperature promotes sleep due to feelings of drowsiness. Equally, exercise helps to remove some sleep-blockers such as stress, depressive symptoms and anxiety.

As part of your planning for the day, factor in a session of exercise - enough to raise your heart rate, increase the labour of your breathing and get you a little bit sweaty. The more vigorous you choose to exercise, the more beneficially your sleep quality will be impacted.

Nevertheless, even a brief walk each morning is enough to positively affect your sleeping though don’t expect miracles to happen overnight. A commitment to regular sleep will begin reaping rewards after a few months. Just be patient.

Pro Tip: Aim to complete your exercise about 3 hours before bedtime. This is because exercise ramps up your metabolism, raises your core temperature and promotes the release of cortisol (one of the hormones that increases your alertness).


3 – Light exposure

A major factor that influences your circadian rhythm is exposure to light. From an evolutionary perspective, the human body was not designed to absorb the abundance of artificial light we’ve become accustomed to in the last century.

Your sleep/wake cycle is, by and large, regulated by the melatonin (the sleepy hormone) that circulates your body. When it is dark, your brain secretes more of it, making you feel increasingly more ready for sleep, whilst it secretes far less when it is light, thus making you feel increasingly more alert.

Of course, throwing artificial light into the mix (e.g. digital displays such as televisions and, notoriously, mobile devices) is enough to confuse that natural process. So, what can you do to help restore balance to your body? Here’s an easy to digest list of 8 things to do and not do…:

  • Do expose yourself to bright sunlight as early in your day as possible. This will help regulate your biological sleep wiring and will also help wake you up more naturally.
  • Do try to be outside during the day as much as possible.
  • Do keep curtains open and let light into your habitat throughout the day
  • Do use a light therapy box if getting enough natural light is tricky (i.e. during winter, if you live in a country with low average hours of sunlight).
  • Don’t take your phone to bed and scroll endlessly.
  • Don’t put the lights on in the middle of the night if you need to get up for a bathroom break.
  • Don’t sleep in a light room - try to remove as much light as possible from your sleep environment when you sleep.
  • Don’t go to bed immediately after watching television or computer work - as with the mobile phone, the light emitted from screens suppresses the release of melatonin.


Image of a woman on her laptop in a dark room


4 – Diet

This is another big one and rightly so. The food and drink you consume throughout the day has a significant impact on the quality of your sleep. Yet, despite the significance of diet, getting it right is a literal cake-walk.

In order to positively help your sleep quality:

  • Limit stimulants - caffeine stays in the system for up to 12 hours, whilst nicotine can equally provoke your ability to slip into a deep sleep.
  • Limit alcohol - contrary to popular belief, alcohol might make you feel sleepy but it stifles your body’s ability to enter the deeper stages of sleep.
  • Go easy on the liquids before bed - a full bladder needs emptying sooner…
  • If you can’t remove them from your diet altogether, reduce the amount of sugar and refined carbohydrates you consume throughout the day.


5 – Meditation

This doesn’t necessarily mean breaking out your yogi pants, putting on your Spotify playlist of Tibetan chanting or whale song and concentrating on the rush of blood throughout your entire body whilst giving gratitude to the sun. Sure, that type of meditation works wonderfully, but it might not work for you. Consider meditation as quiet time, addressed in your own way to process those worries or stresses that you carry. There’s nothing wrong with carrying such thoughts, it’s only human, but there are very effective ways of managing them.

Some people like to meditate with music, whilst stretching, by using different techniques to focus the mind on specific body parts. There is a meditation ritual for every type of mind and a quick internet search will provide you with a treasure trove of meditation ideas.

Here’s an easy to implement breathing exercise that will help you to relax a little more:

  1. Dress as you would usually for bed, then get in; lay on your back and close your eyes.
  2. Place your left hand on your chest, and rest your right on your stomach.
  3. Inhale through your nose, filling your lungs deeply and paying attention to the hand that rises (hint: it’s your right hand).
  4. Exhale through your nose, squeezing as much air out as possible, as hard as you can. Which way is your right hand moving now?
  5. Repeat this cycle, noticing how your state of relaxation increases with each inhale-exhale.


6 – Optimise your sleep environment

This might just be the most under-considered part of the equation. An optimised sleeping environment can be narrowed down to a small handful of qualities:

  • Dark
  • Cool (ideally around 18-20 degrees Celsius)
  • Well ventilated
  • Quiet
  • Comfortable
  • Reserved for sleep and intimacy only

All things considered, that’s quite a basic little list. How those things are achieved, or how extensive you wish to be in cultivating such a space, is entirely in your hands. Yet if you nail those 6 fundamental elements, everything else is the proverbial garnish.


Image of a dark restful bedroom


What Are The Main Benefits of Good Sleep?

As we’ve established, a good night’s sleep leads to many positive results. Good sleep only leads to positive results.

Here are 9 of the biggest benefits that good sleep will lead to:


Lower risk of stroke, Alzheimer’s and heart disease

When it comes to the heart, waking up too early can trigger the sympathetic nervous system. That pounding heartbeat you sometimes have when you wake after only a few hours of sleep? That’s the body kicking into fight or flight mode and you have your sympathetic nervous system to thank for that. The rise in heart rate, over prolonged bouts of insufficient sleep is enough to elevate your resting blood pressure which, left unchecked will not only increase your chances of developing heart disease but for stroke and Alzheimer’s too.


Improved concentration and productivity

The brain needs sleep just as the body does. Sleep is when the brain is literally cleaning itself of the toxins that naturally built up throughout the day. A good sleep therefore means a cleaner brain!

What this means is that whilst you will feel more energised after sufficient, restful sleep, you will also be better equipped to concentrate and focus your attention better throughout the day.


Poor sleep increases the likelihood of weight gain

This is due to the impact of sleep deprivation on the two hormones that regulate your appetite: leptin and ghrelin. Leptin decreases your appetite and ghrelin increases it. Have a guess which one takes the lead after a poor night’s sleep…


Lower risk of developing Type 2 Diabetes

Directly linked to the above, a decrease in leptin and an increase in ghrelin will likely lead you to overeat, and to overeat the foods that you typically crave - most probably ones high in sugar and refined carbs. An overindulgence in both over an extended period of time will, unfortunately, drastically increase your chances of developing Type 2 diabetes.


Image of a man standing on a balcony and yawning


Your athletic performance will increase

Studies have shown that sleep quality positively impacts athletic performance across a variety of technical skills including speed, reaction time and accuracy. Such studies have also indicated a strong correlation between good sleep and better mental health.

Other studies have also linked poor sleep quality with a reduction in overall physical ability outside the sphere of athleticism. In a study involving almost 3,000 older women with a mean age of 83.5 years, disrupted, limited and poor quality sleep resulted in slower walking speeds, lower grip strength and an increased difficulty in carrying out basic physical activities independently.


Improved immune functions

Yes, good sleep absolutely contributes to a stronger immune system; one that is better equipped to help prevent the development of colds.

A famed study proved this by depriving the willing participants of sleep and then spraying the cold virus into the noses. Observed for a period of two weeks, the study showed that people who slept less than 7 hours per night were almost 3 times more likely to catch a cold than those who slept for 8 hours.

Pro tip: 8 hours of sleep has been proven to help improve your body’s ability to fight and stave off the common cold.


Image of a cat lying on a bed napping


Healthier emotional wellbeing

Good sleep can have a notable impact on your emotions: a refreshing sleep, and therefore consistently high-quality sleep, will help fuel your positive emotions. How often have you had a good night’s sleep and woken up in a bad mood?

It also helps lubricate your social interactions which, coupled with a stronger ability to focus and pay attention, can only be a positive outcome. You’ll also be able to register the emotions being displayed by others.

In short, being sleep deprived can lead to lower/weaker social skills, increased negative emotions and a lesser ability to accurately discern the emotional cues of others.


Less inflammation

Inflammation in the body is a defence mechanism. It happens when something foreign, like a splinter or a pathogen or anything in between, enters the body. However, sometimes the body mistakes its own tissues or cells as foreign - an issue that can lead to wider ranging problems including type 1 diabetes and autoimmune disease.

Better sleep health helps to reduce the instances of chronic inflammation.


Better memory retention

During sleep, one of the activities taking place in your brain is the reviewing and organisation of memories. Those currently sitting in the short term memory banks are sorted and shuttled over to long term storage.

Perhaps you’ve also noticed that when you’re tired, it’s a little more difficult to recall certain things? Better, more consistent sleep will help you avoid such memory lapses.


So… why is MedicAlert talking about sleep?

Whilst most MedicAlert members won’t find that all, if any, of their health and medical requirements are completed resolved by sleep, it is clear from the above that so many benefits can be driven by good quality sleep and a regular sleep routine. These benefits can help to reduce the burden of many medical conditions on the body and the mind, as well as better equiping the body for recovery.

However, what is also clear is that whilst good sleep reduces stress levels, reduced stress levels in turn improve sleep quality. This is where MedicAlert comes in!

Whilst our primary aim is to keep people safe in emergencies, hundreds of our members get in touch every year to tell us how the service has provided them with peace of mind, a sense of security and increased confidence. There’s no doubt they are sleeping better at night.

If you want to know more about our service, click below or get in touch today on 01908 951 045.


FIND OUT MORE




Click below to receive the latest MedicAlert news, articles and offers directly to your inbox


SIGN UP FOR NEWSLETTER

Twitter   Facebook   LinkedIn   Google  

Your browser session was modified and your impersonation status has changed.

Please click below to continue.

Exit

Your login session has expired on this device.

Please click below to continue.

Sign in