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Sleeping cat at Elephant Nature Park, Thailand

Modern life is crazy-busy. Back-to-back things to do, places to be, meetings to sit in. To fit it all in, we start cutting corners, unfortunately important corners which hold up the foundations of our health. We reach for quick fixes to prop ourselves up; eat processed / fast foods, often nuked in the microwave for extra speed; we use our cars to “get there more quickly” (ironically often to an exercise class); and our busyness gradually also eats into our much needed sleep time.

Zzzzzzzzzzz. Sorry were you talking to me?

It was said that Margaret Thatcher governed the country on nanoseconds of sleep (OK, slight exaggeration). I’ve read personal development books which recommended me setting my alarm one hour earlier each morning to fit in time for self-improvements, reading etc. Somehow there is an invisible badge of honour attached to making do with less and less sleep, but at what cost?

Personally, I have always needed a good 8 hours of sleep. Anything less and I can feel stale and jaded, my thinking is sluggish, and I usually spend the day looking forward to crawling back under the duvet.

When we feel more tired the morning after the night before, it’s a sure sign that we aren’t getting our full quota of beauty sleep. It’s not just a physical thing, though. Our cells need to recharge at all levels. As we sleep, our brain files away and catalogues what we have learnt that day. We also process our emotional experiences during sleep. I know myself that my memory recall is dreadful after a poor night’s sleep. Emotionally too, I can feel stuck, experiencing the same thing over and over, usually with the same emotional charge attached. If rested, my memory is sharper and I possess a better perspective on the shadows from the day before.

Lack of sleep dulls our senses and makes us more prone to act on autopilot and react in the same old way to emotional triggers. With a good dose of quality sleep, we are better equipped to take a more proactive and mindful role in our life. Instead of surviving each day, simply going through the motions, we properly engage with life in a more vibrant, meaningful way!!

Sleeping cat

The old adage “sleep is a great healer” isn’t just an old wives’ tale. Sleep gives our cells a breather from the constant demands of a day, so that they can concentrate instead on some much needed housekeeping (a bit like when you have the house to yourself and you can catch up). It’s the time when the body can detox, rebalance, heal and recharge. The liver is our big detoxing plant. When we don’t get enough sleep, the liver has insufficient time to do its stuff, and it starts the next day with a backlog, leaving us feeling grogsville.

In the hopes of compensating for the lack of zzzzzs, what do we do? We kick start our day with a strong coffee and sugar-infused treat, but NOTHING can do for us what a good forty winks can. 

The problem is that a coffee/sugar habit can launch us into a cycle of poor food choices throughout the rest of the day too, which may give temporary bursts of energy but are far from sustaining and in fact deplete the body’s vital reserves of nutrients. And to add insult to injury, we are so hyped up by bedtime, it’s difficult to relax, and nigh on impossible to nod off (many then resort to alcohol or medication) and consequently we don’t enjoy the best quality sleep. When we are rudely awakened by the pesky alarm clock next day, we start the crazy cycle all over again!!

Lack of good quality sleep, as well as reliance on stimulants, takes its toll on the body……. Here are just some of the negative consequences of burning the metaphorical candle at both ends

  • Increased stress levels
  • Compromised immune system (leaving us open to more illness)
  • Increased inflammation, which is at the root of most diseases (think heart disease)
  • Decreased tissue repair (incredibly important for everyone, but particularly so if already ill, injured or recovering from strenuous sport)
  • Greater susceptibility to negative emotions, depression and anxiety
  • Poor memory and focus, and decreased ability to learn. (Think of pulling all-nighters to revise for an exam or prepare for a presentation. Just how sparkly will you and your brain cells feel for the big day?)
  • Poor reflexes and decision-making
  • Weight gain. Leptin (a hormone which signals the brain to feel full and stop eating) decreases, whilst ghrelin (the hunger hormone) increases, making it more likely that we’ll eat more
  • Lower melatonin levels. Melatonin regulates our circadian rhythm (our personal 24-hour clock) and is critical for when we fall asleep / wake up. It helps regulate female reproductive hormones (think menstrual problems) as well as acting as a potent antioxidant (one of good guys fighting free radicals). It is influenced by darkness, so staring at a computer or TV screen by artificial lighting late at night is a bad idea.

Sleep has a LOT going for it. If we want to enjoy life to the full, firing on all cylinders, physically, mentally, and emotionally, we need to invest in some good quality zzzzzzzzs EVERY night. 

How? Next week I shall be giving some hints and tips. See my post here.

Sleeping cat