Why You Need More Sleep

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By Anna Redman

If only a good night’s sleep were as easy as climbing into bed and shutting your eyes. But unfortunately, top-notch dozing takes a lot more planning and preparation. We talked to the experts about their slumbering secrets to help you get a better night’s rest.

The Importance Of Snoozing
Even if you think your sleeping hours are up to snuff, it may be time to take a closer look at your kipping calendar. Many people hit the hay too late, getting fewer hours of sleep than their bodies really need, while others toss and turn for hours on end, suffering a constant stream of restless nights. “If someone is having trouble sleeping, I would look at when they typically head to bed, what they do before bedtime, and what physical activities they do throughout their day,” shares Jennifer Garden, registered occupational therapist, and founder of Sleepdreams, a consulting company in Calgary and Vancouver. “I would also rule out any physical issues and ask them to track their sleep problems for at least two weeks to help us figure out why these issues are occurring.”

“Sleep plays a critical role in thinking and learning,” continues Courtney Hall, BSc. M.O.T., registered occupational therapist, and Garden’s Sleepdreams colleague. “Various sleep cycles (REM sleep) play a role in ‘consolidating’ memories in the mind. If you do not get enough sleep, you won’t remember
what you learned and experienced during the day,” Garden explains. Research also shows that chronic sleep loss can up your risk for heart problems, high blood pressure, stroke, depression, and diabetes. And if those health concerns weren’t reason enough to jump into your PJs ASAP, “Sleep loss can also diminish the body’s release of human growth hormone, which helps to increase muscle mass, thicken skin, and strengthen bones,” she adds. While you’re in dreamland, your body is also working to secrete important hormones, cleansing your brain of waste and leaving it refreshed and restored after a gruelling day of activity. Check out these specialist slumber tips to nix rude awakenings once and for all.

Should You Snack At Witching Hour?
When you were a kid, nothing sounded more awesome than a midnight snack, but as an adult that late-night tummy growl is just an annoying sleep-disrupting distraction. “If you’re waking up hungry in the middle of the night, you should look at your daytime eating habits,” says Brooke Bulloch, registered dietitian and owner of Food To Fit. Adding more nutrient-rich foods to your morning and lunchtime rituals, as well as an afternoon snack, may solve your problem. If you’re facing late-night hunger pangs, Bulloch advises asking yourself the following questions:
1. Are you skipping meals earlier in the day? The need for calories is likely to catch up with you at night.
2. When are you the hungriest during the day? This could point to activities that need to be followed by a greater calorie intake to keep your tum happy while you sleep.
3. Are you avoiding a specific food group? This could cause distracting cravings when you’re trying to nod off.
4. What is your activity schedule?
Athletes may require additional snacks to ensure energy and recovery needs are being met.

Sweat For Sweet Dreams
Sweating it up for as little as 10 minutes a day is enough to boost your sleep quality, says a 2013 poll from the National Sleep Foundation. Up to 83 per cent of exercisers reported good sleep quality, while only 56 per cent of their inactive counterparts could say the same. Added bonus: those who hit the gym the night before also reported feeling more energized the following day.

“Generally, research supports that exercise can help improve our sleep,” shares Dr. Nadine Jackson, ND, from Toronto’s SXS Fitness Centre. “The science behind why exercise enhances our sleep is not conclusive, but most studies show an improvement in many aspects of sleep including total sleep time, decreasing wakeups, and an increase in the amount of relaxing, deep sleep we experience during the night.”

That being said, how fitness affects your 40 winks varies from person to person. Your mattress, pillow, room temperature, and overall sleep environment can all be influential in addition to more personal factors like your age, fitness level, BMI, and exercise routine. “The type of exercise that is best really depends on who you are and what your state of health is,” Jackson comments. “If you’re already a good sleeper, doing a specific type of exercise probably won’t have a huge effect, since you can’t really improve on sleep that is already optimal.”

If you’re less lucky when it comes to shuteye, however, exercise could be the sleep secret you’ve been searching for — just be careful about the type you choose. “People who suffer from sleep disorders are at an increased risk for cardiovascular problems, which puts them at an increased risk for a cardiac event during or after exercise,” Jackson reveals. Though she recommends consulting your physician before beginning a new workout routine, she generally believes that regular moderate aerobic exercise is best. “Start slow and progressively build on your abilities,” Jackson advises. “Traditionally, aerobic refers to cardio-style exercises like walking, swimming, or running, but it can also include moderate resistance training like shoulder presses, squats, lunges, push-ups, rows, planks, and other exercises performed at regular intervals with rest periods of 90 seconds.”

Regardless of their fitness level, most people can boost their sleep quality by performing slow, relaxing evening exercises such as stretching and yoga. “By concentrating on your breathing and relaxing your mind you will decrease your sympathetic nervous system, which helps your body to get rest-ready,” Jackson concludes. So salute the sun after sundown for your best rest yet. Sleep tight!

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