Sleep, Health and Happiness

08/07/2016 Sleep well and reap the benefits

While we’re all busy getting motivated and excited for the YMCA Father’s Day Fun Run, we thought we’d take a minute to stop and appreciate that silent but essential ingredient that nurtures our physical and mental health: sleep.

We spoke to Graeme Kuchmar, Health and Wellness Coordinator at YMCA Eltham, and Abigail Elliot, YMCA Community Development Manager, about the role that sleep plays in maintaining a healthy and happy lifestyle.

What happens while we sleep?

We may feel like nothing much happens while we’re sleeping – except perhaps for the odd dream or maybe a bout of snoring – but our bodies are actually extremely hard at work rejuvenating for the next day.

Abigail explains that ‘during sleep, your body is working to support healthy brain function. Getting enough quality sleep at the right times can help protect your mental health, physical health and quality of life.’

Sleep well and reap the benefits

Graeme describes the wonderful things that sleep does for us to boost our physical health and help us train to our best performance: ‘sleep builds lean muscle, enables fat loss, and improves strength and performance. Our brain also recharges while we sleep, so when we do train again we are more motivated and focused and get more out of our workouts.

Think of your body as your smartphone battery. Every night to get the most out of your phone the next day, you clip it into your charger. By morning you can delight in the 100% restored battery.’

By allowing our bodies to carry out its repairs each night, we benefit from increased energy, strength, a healthy appetite, a sharper memory and lower stress levels. We also improve our immune system and are less likely to succumb to injury or illness.

Insufficient sleep can affect how well we react, think, learn and get along with others and has been linked to depression, suicide, and risk-taking behavior.

It’s safe to say that a good night’s sleep is crucial for repairing our body and mind so that we are physically healthier and mentally happier. So as we approach the YMCA Father’s Day Fun Run, let’s all take a little time to rekindle our relationship with the wonderful world of sleep!

Graeme and Abigail’s Top Sleep Tips:

Exercise!

There is growing scientific evidence that regular exercise will help you enjoy improved sleep quality, longer sleep duration and reduce the time it takes you to fall asleep. But timing and amount of exercise are both crucial. Exercise close to bedtime can have an adverse effect on sleep as it can take our brains a few hours to wind down from all the endorphins that are released. Intensity is also critical as too much exercise can lead to poor sleep. So it’s important to get the balance just right!

Stick to a sleep schedule

Embrace the fact that as human beings, we are creatures of habit and our bodies thrive off routine. Stick to a sleep schedule so that you’re not constantly forcing your body to readjust its clock.

Get the right amount of sleep for you

The amount of sleep we need changes over the course of our lives and varies from person to person. But here are some general recommendations:

Newborns – 16-18 hours a day
Preschool-aged children – 11-12 hours a day
School-aged children – At least 10 hours a day
Teens – 9-10 hours a day
Adults (including the elderly) – 7-8 hours a day

Avoid caffeine and nicotine.

Caffeine is in a lot of what we consume, such as coffee, colas, certain teas and chocolate – and its effects can take up to 8 hours to wear off fully! Nicotine is also a stimulant and smokers often sleep very lightly and wake up early due to nicotine withdrawal.

Get some sun!

At least 30 minutes of exposure to natural sunlight (aka vitamin D) a day can dramatically improve your ability to sleep.

Avoid large beverages and meals late at night.

A large meal late at night can cause indigestion and interfere with your sleep, while too many liquids can wake you up for bathroom trips.

Relax before bed.

Take a hot bath, have a mug of camomile tea, dim the lights, make your bedroom a ‘screen-free’ zone, embrace the peace and tranquility and let yourself drift off while your body busily makes its repairs for a fresh, healthy and active tomorrow…

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