Sleep is an ever-present concern. Ask around the office and you’ll quickly find that most people think they could be doing more to improve their sleep, either in its quality or duration. Yet for all we talk about the need to improve our sleep, rarely do people feel that they are making progress.
Sleep is one of the most important behavioural contributors to health and wellness. Quality sleep allows us to tackle the mental, physical, and emotional demands of everyday life. The issue is many people struggle to effectively sleep, with an estimated 30% of Canadians suffering from sleep disorders.
In this blog we’ll cover the importance of good sleep hygiene, what to do if you simply can’t fall asleep, and how stress can affect your sleep patterns
What determines when we are awake and asleep?
What determines the timing of sleep biologically is the fact that we have a little clock in a small structure in our brain (the hypothalamus) where a 24-hour signal operates. It tells our brain when it’s light and when it’s dark. This clock continues to operate even when our surroundings change. A number of studies have shown that, even in situations where people were kept in continuous darkness, the little internal clock continues to tick despite the absence of light.
What is blue light?
Multiple colours radiate from light. However, not all of them have the same effect on our bodies. Wavelengths blue in colour are beneficial during the daylight. They boost your mood and hone your attention. At night, this can be highly disruptive, suppressing the secretion of melatonin.
An experiment conducted by Harvard compared the effects of 6.5 hours of exposure to blue light to the exposure to green light with a comparable brightness. It was shown that the blue light suppressed melatonin and shifted circadian rhythms for 3 hours—twice as long as that of the green light.
This experiment supports the consensus that exposure to blue light prior to going to bed will disrupt sleeping patterns and the control of the sleep-wake cycle because it affects our bodies creation of melatonin (which is known as the sleep hormone) tricking the brain into thinking it’s daylight due to the blue light exposure.
It is not possible to completely avoid blue light but there are certainly ways to limit your exposure which you should be doing like limiting your screen time, using screen filters and glasses with blue light blockers or anti reflective lenses.
The link between sleep quality and illness
Sleep deprivation and disturbances makes you more likely to catch a viral infection. A study carried out by Prather et. al. in 2015 focused on the chances of people who had varying hours of sleep catching influenza when being exposed to the virus. The breakdown is as follows:
Those with >7 hours had a 17.2% change of catching the flu
6 to 7 hours sleep resulted in a 22.7% chance of catching it
5 to 6 hours had a 30% of catching it
less than 5 hours of sleep and a whopping 45.2% chance of getting the virus.
The risk of infection is caused by inadequate sleep by disrupting the immune system, prompting inflammation and increasing disease severity.
Quantity, quality and timing are the three pillars of sleep health. If you are not hitting these three aspects of sleep well then your sleep health is affected.
Sleep on a consistent basis which is 6 hours or less (habitual sleep duration) causes an increased risk for a variety of diseases including obesity, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, alzeihmers and a 12% increase risk of premature death.
How much sleep do we need?
How much sleep you need depends on your age and individual factors. The following is a rough outline for how much sleep you need each night.
Children: > 10 hours per night
Young Adults: 8-9 hours per night
Middle-aged and older adults: > 6.5 hours per night.
There are many brain deficits associated with sleep loss like sleepiness, drowsiness, attention deficits like lapses and longer reaction time, impaired memory formation, mood changes and more so it is important to work on achieving better sleep to counteract the risk of these.
Quick Tips for better sleep quality
Keep naps under 20 minutes. Long naps may be detrimental to nocturnal sleep quality.
Consume foods and drinks that promote better sleep quality, see more here.
Create an environment that’s conducive for good sleep. Preferably a dark, cool room, free from electronic devices.
Avoid/limit lifestyle factors contributing to sleep loss, such as staring at screens before bed, drinking caffeine past noon, irregular bedtimes and unhealthy snacking in the evening.
Plan sponsors can’t cover everything but what you can do as an employer is put incentives in place to minimize the financial burden on employees trying to improve their sleeping quality. Some steps you can take to improve your employees sleep are:
Sleeping medication under the benefits plan
Treatments for common causes of sleep disorders (e.g cognitive behavioural therapy)
Invest in a Health & Lifestyle spending account so employees can purchase products to help their quality of sleep such as weighted blankets
If you’ve had recent struggles getting good sleep or whether you had issues pre pandemic times, don’t worry you can make beneficial changes and improve your sleeping. Sleep is the basis of all health and wellbeing so you need to get this right in your life. Without quality sleep on a consistent basis, the problems and issues are evident from a mental and physical standpoint especially that making you more susceptible to viral infection or catching the coronavirus. Make sure to invest in your physical and mental health and anything you need to improve your overall sleeping patterns.
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