In previous blog posts, I’ve discussed the importance of the first two pillars of nourishment, diet and movement. When thinking about nourishing our bodies and proper nutrition, most people tend to think of those two on at least some level. However, in this post about the third pillar of nourishment, I am going to talk about something you may not think of immediately when you think of nourishing your body: sleep.
The Basics: Getting Enough Quality Sleep
Let’s start with the basics: the amount and quality of your sleep. Every individual will have different sleep needs, but in general you can determine how much sleep you need based on your age. Young children need 14 to 16 hours of sleep, adolescents need 10 hours of sleep, and by the time you reach adulthood, the recommendation is 8 hours of sleep.
However, it is not only the amount of sleep, but also the quality of your sleep that is important. Getting restful, uninterrupted sleep is the key to waking and feeling satisfied and rejuvenated. Unfortunately, there are several things that can throw off your sleep architecture which you may not even be aware of. Medical conditions such as obstructive sleep apnea and restless leg syndrome can wake you during the night without you even registering it, leaving you wondering why you are no longer feeling refreshed. If you think you may suffer from one of these conditions, you should seek help.
Diet and lifestyle can also affect your sleep architecture, particularly if you consume caffeine or alcohol. Although some people believe they can drink coffee and still go straight to sleep, the reality is that it still affects your sleep quality. It also may surprise you that alcohol does as well, despite its immediate sedative effects. Because your body is experiencing a foreign sedative, your brain will try to balance that with stimulation, so although you’ll initially have this sleep enhancement that occurs, two or three hours later you’ll wake up again. The alcohol affects your sleep latency, your sleep onset, and your different stages of sleep including REM sleep. Even worse, this effect on sleep quality lasts for days after your drink.
The Importance of Sleep
Now, why is it important to be sure that you get enough quality sleep?
Studies have shown that dipping below 7 hours of good, quality sleep has detrimental effects on both your mental and physical health. Not only will your cognition and mood suffer, but your metabolism will as well. When people are deprived of as little as 2 nights of sleep, their hunger hormones will increase and their desire for palatable foods, such as high sugar and high fat foods, will also increase. Sleep deprivation can also affect your insulin levels and cause insulin resistance.
Strategies for Nourishing Your Body with Sleep
If you are struggling to get good sleep, there are a few strategies you can try. Mindfulness meditation may help you relax and induce sleep, but if you need professional help you could look into BTI or cognitive behavioral therapy for insomnia. There are also medications and pharmacotherapy that you can consider if the holistic approaches are not working for you.