Australia, it's time to wake up to sleep

When was the last time you stopped to think about your sleep, and how you can improve it? The Sleep Expert, Elina Winnel explains why it's time to wake up to sleep.

Do you sometimes feel like there's something missing from your life, something you can't quite put your finger on? If so, you're probably right – because the one thing that's missing from so many people's lives in Australia is plenty of quality sleep.

You may not realise this, but undersleeping has reached epidemic proportions. And if the statistics are right, that probably includes you. The average reported sleep time in Australia is just 7 hours, with 12% of people getting by on less than 5.5 hours of sleep. And the problem is getting worse: the results of a national sleep survey in 2016 showed a 5-10% increase in sleep problems compared to a similar survey commissioned in 2010.

As a nation, we are routinely not getting enough sleep, or experiencing poor-quality sleep. The recommended average is at least 7.5 hours’ sleep per night; in terms of quality, if you wake up more than once or twice a night, or if would call yourself a 'light sleeper', then you are probably not getting enough deep sleep to restore your body and mind.

There is no denying the global problem of partial sleep deprivation. According to a National Geographic documentary, people in the Western world are sleeping 2 hours per night less than they did 150 years ago, and the quality of sleep we do get has deteriorated as well.

One of the main reasons for this is because when something becomes normal, you don’t notice it anymore. This is the precise slant of a NSW Health initiative aiming to help Aussies live longer, happier lives. But nutrition and exercise are only two sides of the 'wellbeing triangle': adequate rest is the third and equally vital foundation of a healthy lifestyle.

Dr David Hillman, director of the Sleep Health Foundation, put the issue into stark perspective by saying, "Just like obesity, smoking, drinking too much and not exercising enough, sleep problems cause real harm in our community."

When was the last time you stopped to think about your sleep, and how you can improve it? Perhaps you have felt disempowered, believing there is nothing you can do to improve your sleep. If that’s the case, then I have some good news for you.

As a Sleep Expert with many years of experience in helping people reclaim restful slumber, I can tell you with complete certainty that there IS hope!
We MUST wake up to the fact that inadequate quality sleep affects almost every aspect of our health and wellbeing, especially when we are suffering sleep loss night after night for years.

In the past, cutting sleep has not really been questioned. On the contrary, it's been widely accepted and considered routine – even seen as a sign of strength and determination. But science is showing us that insufficient quality sleep is resulting in a plethora of health problems which people are trying to solve in other ways.

It has been proven that poor sleep leads to weight gain, causes or worsens anxiety, depression and high blood pressure, weakens your immune system, reduces your libido, and impairs cognitive function. And those are just the first few issues that come to mind!

How do you know if you're sleep-deprived?

One renowned sleep study involved paying apparently healthy volunteers to stay in bed in a darkened room for 14 hours per day over the course of one month. Incredibly, most volunteers slept for up to 12 hours of these 14 for the first few days before settling into a natural rhythm of 7.5 to 8.5 hours’ sleep out of every 24. These results suggest that most people are living with significant sleep debt, and attributing the negative effects to virtually anything but not getting enough slumber.

In order to reap the restorative benefits, about 20% of our time in the Land of Nod needs to be spent as ‘slow-wave sleep’. Many people say to me that they must get a lot of deep sleep because they dream a lot. However, REM dream sleep does not occur during deep sleep.
Don't let your dreams fool you. Slow-wave sleep is the 'deepest' stage of our nightly sleep cycles, and is characterised by very slow brainwave activity, as measured using an EEG (electroencephalograph). This is the time when we are 'dead to the world', and it is very difficult to wake a person from slow-wave sleep. This is the stage of sleep when the various systems in our body are replenished and regenerated, which is why it is so important in helping you feel energised and on top of the world when you awake.

What's the big deal about sleep?

According to a recent survey in the UK, sleep is one of the most important contributors to our levels of general happiness. But a positive emotional outlook is only one of the ways in which sleep is a ‘miracle cure’ for many 21st-century health concerns. Here are some of the others.

  • Improve your mental clarity. Sleep has been shown to aid good judgement and increase response time. Your brain effectively gets ‘cleaned out’ during sleep, through a process of removing toxins and waste proteins that potentially reduces the risk of Alzheimer’s.

  • Boost your memory. Sleep is the time when we consolidate our memories, sorting and arranging our experiences and ‘archiving’ them into long-term storage.

  • Increase your energy levels. There are many reasons why you feel refreshed and full of energy after a good night’s sleep. One of them is that your levels of the neurotransmitter adenosine build up during your waking hours as you metabolise sugar to fuel your muscles and organs. When you sleep, your adenosine levels drop sharply, 'recharging' your ability to power your body's various systems.

  • Feel happier. Sleep reduces the level of stress hormones in our bodies, helping us feel less anxious. When we sleep, our levels of adrenaline and cortisol decrease, while our serotonin stores gradually build up. Serotonin is one of the four key neurotransmitters that make us feel happy, and this process of hormonal re-balancing also boosts our motivation levels.

  • Strengthen your immune system. There is a complex relationship between sleep and cytokines -- a class of proteins that play a crucial role in the human immune system. Sleep deprivation has been shown to cause disruptions in cytokine activity, leading to a significant impairment of immune function.

  • Sip from the fountain of youth. During deep sleep, we produce human growth hormone (HGH) -- and this can be described as the ‘hormone of youth’. It helps you regenerate your body, repairing and replacing damaged cells, and achieve a younger-looking appearance.

Join our sleep revolution!

Reclaiming your sleep is the single most important step you can take towards improving your life. Join the ranks of Australians who are waking up to how much happier and healthier they can be -- simply by indulging in plenty of deep, blissful and rejuvenating slumber!

How many self-improvement products do you know of that can fill you with energy and enthusiasm, sharpen your thinking, supercharge your immune system, improve your memory, make you feel happier and less anxious, and even keep your weight under control?

Getting lots of quality sleep can do all these things, and it doesn’t cost a cent.

Perhaps the best news of all is that it doesn't take any effort, either! It's high time to realise this amazing benefit for your wellbeing is within your grasp. All you need to do is give sleep the attention it deserves, and you will soon experience all its wonderful benefits yourself.

© 2018 Elina Winnel, The Sleep Expert,
All rights reserved. Used by permission under licence.