The power of sleep: Unlocking wellbeing with quality sleep

Ilia Lindsay, Registered Psychologist, Komodo Psychology Lead
6/11/2023
2023/11/06

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The power of sleep: Unlocking wellbeing with quality sleep

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As a student or a teacher in the education system, there is a constant juggle of multiple responsibilities: planning, attending classes, learning and retaining new information, and navigating relationships and social interactions. Amidst this chaotic schedule, what if there was something we could do everyday that would support and enhance our ability to concentrate, to learn, to build relationships and regulate emotions. 

What if this was something we all had access to every day?

What if I told you this powerful “something” is sleep. 

Yes, sleep. Sleep is one of the single most powerful processes we can give our physical and mental health every day to improve our quality of life and wellbeing. Sleep is our secret superpower. It is a cornerstone of wellbeing. The importance of a good night's rest cannot be overstated, as it directly influences our overall wellbeing and quality of life. 

Quality sleep acts as the foundation for a healthy body and mind. During those precious hours of slumber, our bodies undergo a remarkable process of restoration and rejuvenation. As we sleep, our muscles repair, and our immune system strengthens, setting the stage for optimal physical health. Simultaneously, our brains actively consolidate memories, sharpen cognitive function, and support emotional resilience. The transformative power of sleep extends beyond the physical and mental realms, impacting our performance, creativity, and even our relationships. By embracing a holistic approach to wellbeing, we recognize that sleep holds the key to unlocking our full potential.

One thing we need to understand if we want to improve our sleep is to understand our circadian rhythms. The circadian rhythm is an internal biological process that regulates our sleep-wake cycle. As adolescents go through puberty, their circadian rhythms naturally shift, leading to a preference for later bedtimes and waking up later in the morning. This shift is often referred to as "delayed sleep phase syndrome" and is influenced by hormonal changes in the body.

According to the American Academy of Sleep Medicine’s expert panel, an adolescent (12-18 years) should aim to get 8-10 hours of sleep each night whilst adults (19-64 years) should aim for 7-9 hours of sleep. However, research shows us that many of us are not reaching this standard, with one study finding that 72% of its participants were getting less than 8 hours sleep. We know how important sleep is and yet it continues to be elusive for students, parents and teachers alike.

Why?

We know that some of the main barriers to good sleep are; excessive device use and screen exposure in evenings, irregular sleep schedules and poor nutritional choices prior to bedtime such as caffeine intake. Unfortunately, the research also shows us that if left unchecked poor sleep can lead to an increased vulnerability to mental and physical health difficulties. 

Researchers have explored a variety of factors to work out to enhance good sleep (both quality and quantity).  We call this sleep hygiene. The basic concept of sleep hygiene is that there are environmental factors that we can manipulate which will optimise our sleep and synchronise our circadian rhythm. - by optimise we mean making sure you get enough and the right type of sleep.  Sleep is made up of different stages from light sleep to rapid eye movement (REM) to non-REM deep sleep. The different stages are responsible for different restorative processes hence why both are important. 

Everyone will have different sleep hygiene preferences and practices. Exploring sleep hygiene is a personal journey, and it may take time to find what works best for you. Be patient, stay consistent, and make adjustments as needed. 

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To get you started, here are our top tips for improving your sleep hygiene: 

  1. Create a 24-hour routine
    The circadian rhythm is a natural, internal process that regulates our sleep-wake cycle and repeats roughly every 24 hours. It signals our body to be awake and alert during the daytime and promotes sleepiness and restorative sleep during the night. Our bodies thrive on routine and cues. By following a regular sleep routine, such as going to bed and waking up at consistent times each day, we send a signal to our body that it's time to prepare for sleep. This helps synchronize our internal clock and facilitates the release of melatonin in anticipation of bedtime.

  2. Light exposure
    Exposure to light, especially natural daylight, influences melatonin production. A sleep routine that incorporates exposure to natural light during the day and dim lighting in the evening helps regulate melatonin release. Vitamin D also plays a role in regulating the body's internal clock. Exposure to natural sunlight, a primary source of vitamin D, helps synchronize the circadian rhythm and promote a regular sleep-wake cycle. When our internal clock is properly aligned, it promotes better sleep quality and can help reduce sleep disturbances.

  3. Create a pre-bed routine
    Establishing a consistent sleep routine plays a crucial role in regulating the release of melatonin, a hormone that helps control our sleep-wake cycle. Develop a relaxing routine before bed to signal your body that it's time to unwind. Engage in activities that promote relaxation and help transition your mind and body into a state of calm, making it easier to fall asleep. You may want to experiment with things such as: 
    - Reading a book 
    - Having a warm bath or shower 
    - Practicing Mindfulness
     
    - Gratitude reflection 

    - Regulating your senses

  1. Avoid caffeine  
    Caffeine is a stimulant so by definition speeds up the messages between the brain and body making you feel more alert and awake which is not conducive to sleep onset.

  2. Avoid device use
    Exposure to device blue light suppresses the release of melatonin, a hormone that influences sleep onset. Even dim light can interfere with melatonin release. Establish a "screen curfew" at least an hour before bed to allow your mind to relax.

  3. Sleep space
    Your sleeping space and bedroom should comfortable for sleeping. You may want to consider your preferences for:
    - The temperature of your room
    - Scents and smells
    - Amount of light/darkness
    - Sounds or silence 
    - Physical comforts such as pillows and blankets 
  4. Consistency
    By implementing sleep hygiene practices that include: consistent bedtimes, exposure to natural light, a pre-bed routine, avoidance of stimulating factors and a comfortable sleep space, you can help regulate your body's melatonin release. This, in turn, promotes a more synchronised sleep-wake cycle, improves sleep quality and quantity of sleep hours, and contributes to overall well-being. It's important to remember that individual responses to sleep routines may vary, so it's essential to find a routine that works best for you and supports your unique sleep needs.

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By embracing good sleep hygiene practices, we can create a solid foundation for our overall well-being and more specifically for students, a foundation for academic success and socio-emotional development. Prioritising sleep may seem challenging amidst a fast paced world, but the rewards are worth the effort. Quality sleep is not a luxury but a necessity for our wellbeing and ability to reach our potential each day. 

Sleep is something that we each have access to daily so, what is stopping you from making the most of your sleep superpower today?

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