S1:E14 | The Magic of Sleep : A special episode for World Sleep Day
Today’s episode is a celebration of the magic of sleep in honour of world sleep day - possibly my favourite day of the year!
Hello and welcome to The Sleep Seekers Podcast, I’m your host, Emma Ashford.
Today’s episode is all about the magic of sleep in honour of World Sleep Day which is technically on March 17th. I’m really happy to do this episode because I don’t think sleep gets the recognition or the attention it deserves and I don’t think that on the whole, our society respects sleep as much as we should. It is so often the first thing to go from our busy lives and we have so little education on it that we tend to just hope for the best with our sleep when really I think we should be optimising and prioritising it. But then I would say that - it’s literally what I do and talk about all day every day.
How can you possibly sum up the magic that is sleep in one short podcast episode? I’m not sure I can, but I’m going to give it a go! This will be broad brushstrokes on the functions of sleep - we could dive deeper into any area and talk much more about it but today we are keeping it big picture view.
Sleep is literally amazing. It’s importance and benefits can’t be underestimated. Matt Walker, the well known sleep scientist describes it as 'our life support system' and I think that’s a brilliant way to describe it because sleep literally underpins every aspect of our health and functioning. Our physical health, mental health and emotional health.
Without enough good quality sleep (between 7 and 9 hours every night), we put ourselves at risk of a whole host of medical conditions and ill health.
Lack of it increases risks of everything from depression to heart disease - virtually every part of the body and every bodily process is affected in some way by lack of sleep. Adequate sleep is an expected input (just like food or water) so without it, everything starts to suffer.
So, let’s talk about some of the big benefits.
In terms of your mental health, sleep has a big part to play.
During the night, your brain processes emotional information, particularly during REM sleep.
This processing cannot be done in the same way during the day so your sleep is incredibly important for this purpose.
Your dreams are your brains way of doing it’s filing, a bit like doing the spring cleaning for the mind.
So your brain processes emotional information which helps you to ‘put things away’ and move past emotional demands - which literally keeps you healthy and sane.
It keeps your mood steady because you are not holding onto things or being weighed down by them unnecessarily. So naturally it follows that if you are not getting enough sleep or not a good enough quality of sleep, you tend to find mood drops, sometimes when this is over a longer period of time this can be thought of as depression - but actually with enough sleep, mood can lift quickly.
Following on from this, enough sleep boosts your resilience and your ability to cope with everyday life - makes sense when you think your brain is not coping with a backlog as it is able to do its processing on a nightly basis.
I sometimes think about this in terms of the kitchen. If your kitchen gets used all day for various meals, things can remain reasonably functional if you can run the dishwasher once a day and stay on top of things. But if you don’t or can’t do that, the backlog of dishes makes everything difficult, normal functioning becomes more overwhelming and something has to give at some point.
I know for me, during periods of poor sleep, I am always more reactive to the world and I am noticeably less emotionally resilient, even after just a couple of bad nights.
So, sleep is incredibly important for mood and resilience - specifically the right amount of REM sleep. It’s important to be aware here that things like alcohol suppress REM sleep so drinking before bed, especially regularly is not a good idea.
The other important purpose this mental filing and emotional processing serves is to support your memory. Thoughts, ideas and information is evaluated during the night and either got rid of or is consolidated into long term memory. This means that with adequate sleep, you are more able to remember things but you are also able to retain new information and pay attention during the day - your focus and concentration is effective for use during your day.
If you have something happening in your life, if there are changes you are experiencing or you have something to process it is normal to notice some changes in your sleep such as dreaming more, more vivid dreams, feeling that your sleep is lighter - this is not a bad thing - this is your sleep adapting to your needs to try to keep you functioning at your best. I told you sleep was magic!
Having worked with a lot of sleep deprived people over the years, I have seen a lot of transformations in terms of mental health and emotional resilience. I have often described it as watching people come back to life. My clients have often described feeling like a shadow of themselves - they are often not enjoying their life, just going through the motions or surviving every day. It’s also very common for sleep deprived people to be losing their temper with partners or children very frequently because, again, they are struggling so much. Most of the time, once sleep is back on track this all disappears.
So, sleep is essential for your mental and emotional health - it’s so important to make sure you are getting enough of it.
And now, for the other half of the story, the magic of sleep for supporting your physical health.
There is so much we could talk about here - it is no over exaggeration to say that sleep supports every system and function in the body.
One of the most noticeable functions of sleep is how it supports the immune system. What do we tend to need if we are unwell? Sleep! Sleep is incredibly reparative, it strengthens the immune system and supports you to get better. I have worked with a lot of sleep deprived people who just can’t shake coughs and colds, particularly in the winter or who are struggling with recurrent health situations because their immune system is so low.
But in the absence of illness, sleep is always building your immune system for when you need it. It keeps you strong and healthy and more able to fight off bugs and illnesses if you do catch them.
Getting enough sleep also significantly reduces your risks of serious health conditions such as diabetes and heart disease. When you sleep, your blood pressure and heart rate drop significantly which gives your heart a chance to rest and recover. Without enough sleep or with poor quality sleep, it can’t do this to the same degree thus increasing the risks of problems.
Lack of sleep can lead to inflammation which can lead to fatty deposits building up in the arteries and lack of sleep disrupts the body's ability to regulate blood sugar, often leading to high blood sugar and diabetes.
All these factors being significant risk factors for heart disease and stroke.
With enough good quality sleep, the vast majority of the time, these risk factors drastically reduce because your body is operating as it should, with all systems functioning more optimally.
Even more amazingly, during the night, your brain literally flushes out toxins. It is thought that when this is not happening enough due to lack of sleep, there can be a build up which is a significant risk factor in Alzheimers.
All this stuff that happens in our sleep without us being aware of it - amazing!
And finally, a little word on sleep and weight as this is often a topic of interest.
There are lots of factors here. Generally speaking lack of sleep tends to make you crave foods that are high in calories, and we are more likely to overeat and less likely to exercise when we are overtired. It’s estimated that on a sleep deprived day, we consume 200-300 extra calories a day - imagine how that adds up over time.
But further than that, adequate sleep keeps our hunger hormones in a nice balance, When you are sleep deprived, the hormone Leptin that normally gives you the full signals drops away and the hunger hormone increases. So, if you want to lose weight, one of the most overlooked things you should be doing to help yourself is to get enough good quality sleep.
Yet another magic effect of sleep. And we have only scratched the surface today.
Again, having worked with a lot of sleep deprived people, there can be an amazing transformation in someones health and appearance when sleep is restored. Many times I have seen people looking incredibly pale and drawn and then within a short space of time as sleep is restored, the colour comes back into their face.
Sleep really is an amazing healer.
So there you have it - just scratching the surface of the magic of sleep. It is so, so important for your mental, emotional and physical health. If you would like me to go deeper into any particular topic I have covered today, feel free to drop us an email or get in touch on the social channels and I will happily dedicate podcast episodes to specific areas.
Don’t forget I also have courses, programmes and products designed to help you to improve your sleep. You will find everything linked up in the show notes or you can go to sleepseekers.academy and find everything there too.
I WISH YOU GREAT SLEEP AND I WILL SEE YOU NEXT TIME ON THE SLEEP SEEKERS PODCAST.
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