Sleep. Find me someone who doesn’t enjoy it and I’ll find you a liar.
Sleep Awareness Week will take place March 14-20, 2021 coinciding with World Sleep Day on March 19, 2021 which highlights the importance of sleep health and encourages prioritising sleep to improve overall health and well-being, alongside exercise and nutrition. This year’s theme is “Regular Sleep, Healthy Future”.
It’s that thing we know is good, but something that seems to elude so many. Well, I’m here to tell you that sleep awareness is possibly the single most important change you can make to your health, and it’s something you can change today.
Sleep has been proven to improve your physical and mental health, reduce your risk of injury and improve cognitive function. Move better, feel better and increase intelligence – all for free. If I could bottle it and put it in a pill, I’d be a billionaire.
There seems to be a badge of honor in modern culture that the less sleep someone needs, the better they are. These people are often A-Type high achievers with what other would consider a strong work ethic. The irony here is that researchers have proven that there is no replacement for sleep. No pill, no machine and no diet can replace 8 hours of sleep per night. It’s scary what some of these A-Type people would achieve with adequate sleep and downtime!
The following blog will break down the physical, mental and cognitive benefits of being sleep aware and provide you with easy and practical tips to help improve your sleep immediately.
Here are some facts:
- Athletes who sleep more than 8 hours per night have been shown to reduce injury by up to ~60%1
- An average of <7 hours sleep per day over the past 2 weeks increased risk of new injury in endurance athletes by 51%2
- Athletes who sleep an average of <8 hours per night are 1.7 times more likely to sustain injury than those who sleep >8 hours.3
In addition to injury risk, sleep deprivation has been linked to an increased risk of developing conditions such as type 2 diabetes and heart disease.
Sleep quality and psychological wellbeing are intricately linked on both a cause-and-effect basis.
In the short-term, sleep deprivation can cause irritability, exhaustion and poor concentration. If this becomes long term, you put yourself at higher risk of conditions such as depression and anxiety.
Researchers initially thought that psychological conditions may have been the reason for poor sleep patterns and quality, however they now believe that poor sleep may contribute to the onset of psychological distress just as much. As such, sleep awareness that results in addressing sleep quality may be one way of breaking the cycle of sleep deprivation and psychological distress.
A few stats on sleep quality and common mental health conditions:
- Depression: Estimated 75% of people diagnosed with depression have symptoms of insomnia.
- Anxiety: Strongly correlated with insomnia. Worry and fear can cause a state of hyper-arousal, which is central to insomnia.
- PTSD: Studies have shown that up to 90% of US Veterans with service-related PTSD have symptoms of insomnia.
- Bipolar disorder: There is evidence to suggest that poor sleeping patterns may induce or worsen an episode of manic or depressive periods. Treatment for symptoms of insomnia can have a positive effect on the symptoms of Bipolar Disorder.
You’ve all been guilty of saying it… “whoops sorry – haven’t had my morning coffee yet”. That groggy feeling as you’re waking up can be more long-lasting that you think if you are fatigued or chronically sleep deprived. The issue is, this often creeps up on us and we don’t realise just how impaired our cognitive function is compared to what it could be. Here are a few facts to get you thinking about extra sleep:
Sleep deprivation can slow down your thought process:
Researchers have found that sleepiness can have a negative effect on your decision making skills and level of alertness. As a result, your judgement is impaired, your attention span is affected, and you’ll be significantly hampered in applying logic or complex thinking. This may lead to impaired judgement and poor decision making.
Chronic sleep deprivation can impair memory:
It is widely affected that sleep is when our experiences become memories. The neural pathways used to store memories are developed and strengthened during sleep. This is particularly true of short-term memory, and a reason as to why sleep deprivation can lead to forgetfulness, misplacing things and that feeling of not remembering what you had for breakfast that morning.
Sleep deprivation may delay learning:
Think about the above. Slowed thought process, difficulty in processing information and reduced memory. Add these together and learning new skills, techniques or theories becomes difficult.
We have all seen the road safety campaigns – the main message is always that sleep deprivation or sleeping when tired is a danger to yourself and other road users. That’s simply because sleepiness causes a delayed reaction time.
In the USA, it is estimated that sleepiness was a factor in 20% of all accidents and has been equated to having a blood alcohol level of 0.08% – over the legal limit for driving in Australia.
Put these into your daily life or training. Reaction time is often what helps you stay upright when you trip, catch that coffee mug before it completely slips and smashes and what makes you instinctively react in a number of ways to avoid hurting yourself. All compelling reasons for improving sleep awareness and getting better sleep!
Practical Tips for Sleep Awareness
Below are 10 actionable tips that you can implement immediately to help improve your sleep quality. The first three are my most recommended, but doing what you can from the list will go a long way:
- Wake and sleep at the same time each day.
- Avoid screen time before bed.
- Perform calming activities (such as meditation) before bedtime.
- Keep your room as dark as possible.
- Limit stimulants 6 hours before bedtime.
- Exercise Daily.
- Keep your room cool and quiet.
- Remove distractions (your phone!) from your room.
- Establish a sleep routine.
- Wake to natural light.
Sam Rooney, Accredited Exercise Physiologist
Von Rosen, et. al. Too little sleep and an unhealthy diet could increase the risk of sustaining a new injury in adolescent elite athletes. Scand J Med Sci Sports. 2017;27(11):1364-1371
Johnston, et. al. General health complaints and sleep associated with new injury within an endurance sporting population: A prospective study. Journal of Science and Medicine in Sport. 2020;23(3):252-257
Milewski, et. al. Chronic Lack of Sleep is Associated With Increased Sports Injuries in Adolescent Athletes. J Pediatr Orthop. 2014;34(2):129-33