With many of us introducing new intentions for the year, we talk to our sleep expert, Dr Rebecca Robbins, about the role quality sleep can play. We understand that we need sufficient sleep to power our waking lives. But, how does restorative, quality sleep improve our mental and physical health? Impacting many areas of our lives, from nutritional choices to motivation to exercise, Dr Robbins uncovers the strategies to achieving quality sleep to help you on your wellness journeys this January.
Sleep duration and quality sleep are two important yet separate concepts. If we sleep enough, meeting the recommended 7 to 8 hours for most adults, but have poor quality sleep. Or, we obtain good quality sleep but less than the recommended 7 hours. In both cases, we are missing the mark, leaving us to suffer the consequences of poor mood, lower productivity, and more significant long term health risks.
Even a well-rested person may experience tiredness in the afternoon. This fatigue is due to a drop in our body temperature between 1 pm and 5 pm, particularly evident for those not achieving quality sleep. So much so that they will look for means to keep them awake during these hours, such as coffee or other stimulants. Therefore, a sleep-deprived person will experience significant sluggishness and sleepiness in the afternoon. If you find yourself desperate for stimulants to maintain alertness, it is a sure sign you are not getting enough quality sleep at night.
You may be trying a new exercise routine at the beginning of the year. However, if you feel less motivated to exercise, it could be a sign you are not getting enough quality sleep. Moreover, if you work out and feel as though you are underperforming, you might look to the amount of sleep you are getting. Research has shown that sleep loss reduces your VO2 max, the amount of oxygen your body can absorb during exercise, which fuels your workout. So, inadequate sleep leaves us less motivated to exercise and less able to get a good workout when we do exercise.
Taryn Toomey, wellness expert and founder of The Class, shot by Jaimie Baird for Savoir
As well as exercise routines, sleep can also impact appetite. When we are sleep deprived, the hormones that regulate our appetite are thrown off balance. Specifically, the hormone ‘leptin’ that tells the brain when we have had enough to eat is inhibited—leaving us less able to understand when we have had enough to eat and therefore prone to overeating.
You make may also make worse nutrition choices. When we are well-rested, we are more motivated to eat healthy meals. But when we are sleep-deprived, we are more likely to reach for sugary, carbohydrate-dense foods.
Our ability to fall asleep and obtain healthy sleep is, in part, governed by our internal circadian rhythm. This system evolves, with inputs such as the light in our environment over time, to understand when we should be alert and when we should be tired. Another input is when we fall asleep and wake up. If we keep these times consistent, our circadian rhythm becomes refined and well ‘trained’ in understanding when we are tired and awake.
If we keep different bed and wake times, then our internal clock is limited in knowing when we should be tired or awake, which leaves us in a constant state of disorientation, struggling to fall asleep and wake up at regular times. This is a recommendation we give our children. We stick to a consistent bedtime and routine for them. However, we are guilty of not doing this ourselves. If you keep a consistent sleep schedule, you may find you fall asleep faster and spend less time tossing and turning.
Sleeping in a Savoir bed
Believe it or not, a good night’s sleep starts when we wake up. If you are struggling with poor quality sleep, these are my top three considerations.
Firstly, try introducing a meditation practice. Meditation is about being present and at peace in the moment. These are the essential skills to help us fall asleep. Anyone who struggles to fall asleep and spends time tossing and turning may benefit from starting a meditation practice.
Secondly, alcohol consumed in small doses may help you fall asleep, but much more than that will dramatically reduce the quality of your sleep. Specifically, alcohol serves to pull you out of deeper stages of sleep so that you may spend time sleeping but wake up and not feel refreshed.
Finally, stress is the number one cause of insomnia, and managing our emotions and stress is central to our ability to get healthy, restorative sleep. If you kick off a healthy exercise routine, you may also find you fall asleep faster, for exercise releases endorphins which are mood elevators. Not surprisingly, research shows that those who exercise regularly take less time to fall asleep and obtain more restorative sleep than those who do not.
Find out more about Dr Rebecca Robbins.
Our partnership with Dr Rebecca Robbins explores all areas of our health, from immunity and anti-ageing to performance and brain function, which can be impacted by sleep. Read our recent article with Dr Robbins on the sleep myths that may hinder your healthy sleep routine.