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The importance of sleep

160523_TSF_FbPostWhy on earth are there not 54 hours in a day? Who can get everything done in 24? Well, to squish it all in, I guess the yoga class is the first thing to go. Sitting down to eat remains a fanciful notion. And sleep? Pfft, who needs it? Go to bed a smidge later, get up a little earlier, and watch me smash through the to-do list!

That’s the way it works, isn’t it?

I am afraid not, kids. Skimp on sleep and you land yourself in a world of trouble.

You are busy. I get it. Most of us are. But one of the most important things you can do for your health is prioritise sleep.

Without it, you risk:

  • Compromised immune function
    This includes making you more susceptible to the flu, or to developing chronic conditions, including cancer.2;3
  • Brain fry
    Cognition, focus, memory, learning and rational thinking are affected.4;8
  • Insulin resistance
    Insulin action is decreased in those sleep deprived.1
  • Weight gain
    Even in our kids!6 Sleep deprivation can mess the hunger and satiety hormones.7
  • Mood and behavioural dysfunction
    There is increased susceptibility to anxiety, depression and irrational behaviour (think about an over-tired toddler. Not fun).
  • Enhanced aging and a shorter life
    And one could hypothesise, a life of less clarity and quality.8

Lack of sleep should not be seen as a badge of honour. It is known that without sleep you are less productive, less able to make rational decisions, and can affect relationships.

So let’s switch up the no sleep ‘tude by having a look as to WHY quality and duration of snooze time is worth investing in.

Part 1: Quantity

It seems 7-8hours of sleep each night is optimal for adults. Teens it is 9-10hours, and littlies more again with 9-12 hours recommended. Despite what people say about not needing sleep, this is only true for a tiny minority.

Whilst back in the cave-days we were likely to wake more often, or for an extended period throughout a night, we often went to sleep just after sundown. You don’t have to be a mathematical mastermind to figure that is more recline time than we give ourselves now.

Siestas are practiced in many countries, and even being introduced into certain working environments. The 20minutes power nap can really stoke the cognitive fire!6

Part 2: Quality

So you think getting to bed by 10pm to rise at 6am will sort it. But how deep is that sleep? Are you rested when you wake? Most days we should feel refreshed, casting back the covers and bouncing from bed to embrace the day.

There are many factors that contribute to reduced quality of sleep. Factors that even take place at the start of the day before!

If you find you do not fall asleep easily, wake and cannot get back to sleep, toss and turn throughout, or wake up foggy and dragging yourself from your bed, here are a few things to consider.

Melatonin and the circadian rhythm
Melatonin is our major sleep hormone. It acts as an antioxidant with a myriad of amazing health benefits.

Melatonin and cortisol work in opposite to each other. As one rises the other falls. This is part of the circadian rhythm, which our body establishes based on our routine. Mess with the routine and the rhythm goes whack. This impacts not only sleep, but many biological mechanisms, even at a cellular level.

Melatonin is zapped away with light exposure (hence why it is low in the morning). Turning off and getting away from any screens at least 30-60minutes before bed is critical. Seriously! Give melatonin a chance to shine!

Blood glucose fluctuations
Have a good breakfast of protein, fat and fibre for longer lasting energy. This avoids blood sugar dips, leaving you reaching for the sweet stuff.

Sugar and stimulants will encourage adrenalin and cortisol production. These fluctuations are reactionary, and can continue throughout a day, impacting the sleep that night.

By reducing the rapid rise and fall of blood glucose and the subsequent release of adrenalin and cortisol, we allow melatonin to rise throughout the afternoon and evening preparing you for bed.

Of course there are a myriad of factors that could play into getting good sleep. These include stress, eating too late and overeating, hormonal status, restless leg and twitching, anxiety or depression, medications, allergies and more.

Sleep – you’ve got to get some

Do your darndest to get a good nights rest each night, considering duration and quality. Here are some ideas on helping make those precious supine hours matter:

Routine and night-time light and noise exposure
Turn off all electronics at least 30minutes before bed, if not more. Attempt to be asleep 10-11pm – every hour of lost sleep after midnight can be worth two hours of rest and repair in sleep prior to midnight.

Be mindful of light entering the room and noise. Wearing an eye patch and plugging up the ears can help.

Reduce intake of refined processes sugars, stimulants and alcohol. The havoc wreaked on blood glucose levels, even from the start of the day, can impact your quality of sleep the following night. If you feel you need your hit, have caffeine no later than noon (depending on how quick you metabolise it), or better yet, opt for green tea!

Honour yourself, not the idea of yourself
We all feel better for sleep – the deeper the better, with 8 hours a common optimum amount. Only an incy wincy tiny portion of the population can legitimately thrive on less than 6 hours sleep a day (though it may hurt to hear that!).

So give up glorification of less sleep and get some solid snoozing, so you can be the best version of yourself – at work, home and play.

By Angela Johnson (BHSc Nut. Med.)



  1. Broussard, JL, Chapotot, F, Abraham, V, Day, A, Delebecque, F, Whitmore, HR, & Tasali, E 2015, ‘Sleep restriction increases free fatty acids in healthy men’, Diabetologia, vol. 58, no. 4, pp. 791-798.
  2. Hahn, J, Günter, M, & Autenrieth, S 2015, ‘Abstract # 1665: Impact of sleep on innate immune cells’, Brain Behavior and Immunity, vol. 49, no. Supplement, p. e43.
  3. Hui, L, Hua, F, Diandong, H, & Hong, Y 2007, ‘Effects of sleep and sleep deprivation on immunoglobulins and complement in humans’,Brain Behavior and Immunity, vol. 21, pp. 308-310.
  4. Killgore, WD 2010, ‘Effects of sleep deprivation on cognition’, Progress in Brain Research, vol. 185, pp. 105-129.
  5. Lovato, N, & Lack, L 2010, ‘The effects of napping on cognitive functioning’, Progress in Brain Research, vol. 185, pp. 155-166.
  6. Morrissey, B, Malakellis, M, Whelan, J, Millar, L, Swinburn, B, Allender, S, & Strugnell, C 2016, ‘Sleep duration and risk of obesity among a sample of Victorian school children’, BMC Public Health, vol. 16, no. 1, p. 245.
  7. Schmid, SM, Hallschmid, M, Jauch-Chara, K, Born, J, & Schultes, B 2008, ‘A single night of sleep deprivation increases ghrelin levels and feelings of hunger in normal-weight healthy men’, Journal Of Sleep Research, vol. 17, no. 3, pp. 331-334.
  8. Scullin, MK, & Bliwise, DL 2015, ‘Sleep, cognition, and normal aging: integrating a half century of multidisciplinary research’, Perspectives On Psychological Science: A Journal Of The Association For Psychological Science, vol. 10, no. 1, pp. 97-137.
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