Much is written today about sleep: our lack of it and how it impacts everything in our life and our quality of life. If you don’t get enough z’s your body and mind will tell you. And when you are stressed, it’s a guarantee you won’t be getting the rest you need which leads to more stress and worry. It can become a toxic, never-ending cycle. Today, more than ever, it’s critical to get your sleep to keep yourself physically and mentally well.
To help you understand why it’s so important and how to truly lay it down, turn if off and get the restorative rest you need, we spoke to Alannah McGinn, renown Toronto-based sleep expert and President of Good Night Sleep Site, who shared with us many interesting and eye-opening sleep insights.
Why is good sleep so integral to our being?
“Sleep helps our body repair and restore from the day its had and helps the brain and mind rest and prepare for the day ahead. We are able to file away our long-term memories and flush out toxins. Research shows our brain’s drainage system—the glymphatic system—washes the junk and toxins from our brains primarily throughout the night. This is one of the major reasons why we sleep.”
Straight talk: how many hours of sleep do we really need a night to function at our best?
“For a typical healthy adult individual you need at least seven to nine hours of consolidated sleep. Rare individuals require less or more. When you are frequently cheating your body of six or less hours of sleep each night you are more prone to future health problems and a shorter life expectancy. You can’t catch on up sleep by just sleeping in one morning. It takes 24 hours to recover from one hour lost of sleep.”
How does stress impact sleep? What if you just can’t turn off your ever-whirring mind?
“Busy brains is a main reason why people are struggling to fall back to sleep at night. Bouts of insomnia are common. You may suffer from acute insomnia, where for a short period of time you struggle with sleep and then you start sleeping well again. It could be due to illness, stress, excitement, worry. Others may struggle with chronic insomnia, where the individual has had loss of sleep for months or even years and now it could be affecting their overall health and quality of life. Some tricks to quiet your mind include practicing mindful breathing and relaxing techniques. Take a personal pause throughout your day where you allow your mind to shift to your worries or your to-do list. Right it down if you have to. This way once you go to sleep and the distractions are gone you’re not left to thinking about everything because you already gave yourself that opportunity to throughout the day. Also I advise keeping a worry journal on your bedside table where you can jot down worries, stresses, and to-do lists that may be keeping you up at night so that you are giving yourself a brain dump and off your mind so that you can sleep.”
What are the essentials for a good night sleep?
“You always want to start with the basics and that’s practicing proper sleep hygiene. Sleep hygiene are steps that you should practice promoting ongoing healthy sleep. There are a few main steps for this. It’s important to establish a consistent sleep pattern. It’s easier for us to fall asleep and stay asleep when we are aiming for the same bedtime and wake time each day. Next, protect the amount of sleep that you need. When we don’t meet our own personal baseline of sleep on a regular basis we accumulate a ‘sleep debt.’ Determine your wake time and base your bedtime on that. Lastly, turn off tech and keep it out of the bedroom! You may fall asleep to the TV okay or after you surf your phone, but being in front of that bright screen turns the sleep switch off in your brain. And even though you are sleeping, your brain still thinks that it should be awake, so you’re not able to get proper restorative sleep.”
On that note, how much do tech devices impact our sleep?
“Likely the biggest sleep buster in our bedrooms! Turn off the TV, the internet, the iPad, and the iPhone, whatever you use. That blue LED light from the screen can really over stimulate the brain. It suppresses melatonin and make it difficult for you to fall asleep. So at least 60-minutes before bedtime (90-minutes if you can do it!), turn off tech!”
How can a couple get a better night’s sleep as a collective? It can be very difficult when you are two different sleepers, with different wake times and bedtimes.
“If you can focus on the same bedtime at least a few nights a week this can provide you and your partner the opportunity to connect without life’s distractions. Establishing a healthy bedtime routine as a couple and as individuals is imperative in attaining a good night’s sleep.”