The Importance of a Good Night’s Sleep


Sleep is not just a time to allow us to rest and recuperate, it is a time when our body can heal and restore. Lack of sleep can affect our relationships, our work and our energy levels, making us moody, irritable, unable to concentrate, hungry and tired but it can also affect our health and even our weight.

Get in the Dark

In order to get a good night’s sleep, our body has to convert serotonin into melatonin. Melatonin synthesis in the pineal gland is triggered by darkness which helps induce and maintain sleep. The production of Melatonin is affected by lack of nutrients as well as computer and TV screen glare, which is why we should not have TV and electrical screens in our bedroom. Research has shown that exposure to noise and light during sleep can suppress the immune system as well as disrupt natural sleep patterns.

The Stress Factor

When we are stressed, our bodies produce more of the hormone cortisol. This can have a negative effect on our health as well as our sleep. When cortisol is working correctly, it can help maintain our blood sugar balance as well as aiding a good night’s sleep. This can make us more prone to weight gain, heart disease and even diabetes.

Eat Yourself To A Good Nights Sleep

Fill up on foods to help the melatonin cycle and can aid sleep, such as foods rich in Tryptophan, found in turkey, fish, nuts, seeds and bananas. Magnesium is a great mineral to aid a good nights sleep. It helps relax muscles (so great for those suffering from restless leg syndrome) as well as regulating blood sugar and balancing electrolyte potential across cell membranes. Increase your magnesium-rich foods, filling up on green leafy vegetables, yoghurt, nuts, and dark chocolate. You could also opt for a magnesium-rich Epson salt bath, a great way to relax your muscles. B vitamins are essential for the production of serotonin and melatonin, especially B1, B3 and B6.


Quality and Quantity

New-borns sleep approximately 14-16 hours a day. Children need around 10 hours of sleep at night. Teenagers, despite their protests, also need around 10 hours of sleep for optimum health. Adults require around 7-8 hours of sleep per night. We need less sleep as we get older, with over 65’s needing the least, getting away with around 6 hours sleep a night. We spend approximately 1/3rd of our life asleep.

Sleep Aids Weight loss

When you are sleep deprived, you upset your natural hormone levels, including Ghrelin, which is a hormone that sits in your stomach telling you to eat more, stimulating our appetite, especially for carb-rich and sugary food. At the same time our leptin response falls, this is the signal that tells the brain when we are full, so we are constantly hungry – a reason why shift workers find it so hard to maintain a healthy weight. A study by the University of Chicago found dieters lost over 56% more fat than those who were sleep deprived. Those who were sleep deprived lost the same amount of weight but this was found to be more from muscle mass.

Memory Function

Lack of sleep can make it hard for us to concentrate and focus the following day. Sleep plays a vital role in setting and consolidating our days’ activities and memories as well as learning from these experiences. Being sleep deprived can affect our focus and even our reaction time. Studies have shown our reaction time when driving after a lack of sleep is as detrimental as being drunk at the wheel.

Reduce inflammation and Repair

Sleep is a time when our body can move in and repair and rejuvenate, as well as conserve our energy. Research has also shown that those who are sleep deprived have higher levels of inflammatory proteins in the blood, making them more susceptible to whole-body inflammation, putting them more at risk of diseases such as heart disease.

Did you Know?

  • Over 50% of adults suffer from insomnia at some point in their lives
  • Women are 3 x more likely to suffer from insomnia
  • REM sleep begins around 70-90 minutes after we fall asleep and shows heightened brain activity as we dream.
  • During the REM sleep, our blood pressure can raise slightly as well as our breathing rate.
  • Once we are in deep sleep, our brain activity is at its lowest level.
  • A baby can cost parents up to 750 lost hours of sleep in the first year.
  • Elephants stand during non-REM sleep but lie down during REM sleep phases
  • If you snore, you could be one of over 10% of those who also have sleep apnoea. Sleep apnoea can cause suffers to stop breathing up to 300 times at night, increasing the risk of heart attack and even stroke.

Sarah Flower is a leading UK Nutritionist and Author.  For more information, visit my website

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