Sleep is something most of us take for granted. In todays modern society, sleep tends to be something we fit in, rather than prioritise.
Got a late work meeting? It's fine, I’ll just go to bed later.
Going out for a drink after work? It's fine, just go to bed when I get in and have a coffee in the morning.
But is this casual attitude to sleep harming our wellbeing?
Two thirds of adults in developed nations fail to regularly achieve the recommended 8 hours of sleep per night and it has become cultural to readily accept these sleep deficits. This could be explained by science’s historical failure to explain why we actually need to sleep.
Sleep has survived evolution in all species, which suggests there must be significant benefits to it. Research has now exposed many health benefits of sleep, wide ranging from immunity to learning capacities. Sleep aids our ability to learn, memorise and make logical decisions. During sleep, the connections within the brain are recalibrated, allowing us to better deal with challenges the following day. Sleep disruption contributes to all major psychiatric conditions, such as depression and anxiety.
Not getting the required amount of sleep increases concentrations of a hormone that makes us feel hungry. You may have noticed when you’ve had a late night you find yourself eating more the next day, and commonly binging on unhealthy foods. Additionally, the hormone which signals food satisfaction is suppressed, meaning your ability to feel full is lessened.
Routinely sleeping less than needed has significant effects on the immune system. Research has shown regularly sleeping less than 6-7 hours per night doubles the risk of cancer development. Blood sugar levels are also affecting increasing the risk of diabetes. Sleep reforms the body's metabolic state by fine tuning the balance of insulin and circulating glucose. This vital process is not completed if the body is operating in a sleep deficit. Microbiomes of the gut are maintained with enough sleep, hence our ability to absorb nutrients from food can be affected with lack of sleep, often leading to weight gain.
It has become almost celebrated in our society to be able to survive on less sleep. People who burn the candle at both ends are often described as “hardcore” or the “hard workers”. But considering all vital effects of sleep, should they just be considered foolish?
We are a nation of coffee lovers; whilst some drink it to enjoy the health benefits of the coffee bean, others use it as an energy boost and a way of surviving the day with inadequate sleep. Caffeine works by blocking the sleep signal hormone, adenosine. Adenosine binds to hormone receptors in the brain which in turn signals that we are sleepy. Caffeine blocks these receptor sites, giving the “sleepy hormone” no where to bind to. Caffeine therefore tricks us into feeling alert.
Caffeine is the most widely used drug in the world, with people even resorting to using the strong powdered form to give them a boost. This is short term solution. The body needs sleep for all the wellness benefits above mentioned. Using caffeine is the equivalent of sticking your fingers in your ears to block out a noise. Solves the problem temporarily, but doesn’t deal with the bigger picture.
So is it time to become a nation of sleep lovers again? Aim to get at least 8 hours per night regularly. Wellness depends upon it.
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