These 3 Modern Habits Are Damaging Our Health
“You need at least 8 hours of sleep”. This is a common piece of advice that’s been used as a guideline over the years. But now experts are more concerned about the quality of sleep, rather than the amount of sleep!
Modern life has us more stressed than ever before. The mixture of demands we try to meet, whether it’s from a heavy workload, parenthood, social lives, and extra activities, are limiting the time we have to take a well-deserved rest!
WHY WE NEED GOOD QUALITY SLEEP
Without good quality sleep, our bodies are vulnerable to illnesses, we’re more likely to feel weak, it’s harder to lose weight, and our brains are likely to function slower. Doesn’t sound good, does it?
In recent years, more research has been going into why people need a good quality kip, rather than just the right number of hours. It’s to do with what’s called the circadian rhythm. The circadian rhythm refers to the sleeping pattern, and there are different levels of sleep which run in waves. And getting into the right pattern allows you to feel fully rested every night!
Medically, the lack of good sleep can cause an array of problems – or at least increase the risk of them! You see, the body’s functions need to rest, and when we’re not in a deep enough slumber, they’re not actually resting.
One of the most important functions is the immune system, which keeps diseases at bay. It works to fight off unwanted bacteria and viruses, so when it’s not working at its best, you’re far more prone to catching the common cold and other viruses.
Depriving yourself of the best night’s sleep can also put a strain on other parts of the body – your heart, for example. Studies have shown that those who don’t sleep well are more likely to experience heart disease or heart attacks[i].
Not sleeping well can, in addition, cause weight fluctuations, and its often weight gain. This could be down to the habits associated with poor sleep. People often try to render their tiredness by consuming coffee and energy drinks full of sugar or eating sugary or carb-loaded foods. All of this can also lead to the likelihood of developing type 2 diabetes. And for those with type 2 diabetes, sleeping well can help control blood sugar levels – it’s a win-win!
But it’s not just medical! Lack of good quality sleep can harm your social life, because of so-called mood swings. Without sleep, you’re likely to become irritable. And that doesn’t make for good company!
When you don’t sleep well, your hormones are out of whack, and that can cause emotions to fly about. This can make disagreements and arguments more difficult between partners, or lead to bad or abrupt decision making [ii]. Rational thinking can go out the window when you’re feeling unrested, so for the sake of your relationships, get some shut-eye.
Without some quality sleep, you’re also less inclined to actually do things due to a lack of energy. Going out and socializing with friends is important for maintaining bonds between people (as well as fun and mood-boosting). Tiredness can also lower your libido [iii], which is damaging to romantic relationships. Physical interaction brings you closer together and helps to release endorphins [iv], which improve your mood, and even relieve pain! Intercourse and kissing have many health benefits, so it’s definitely worth getting that good night’s sleep.
Work can be a struggle at the best of times, but when you’re lacking the right level of rest, it can become almost impossible to complete tasks! Brains can’t function properly without it. A study [v] found that sleep can impact various aspects of cognitive behavior, such as decision making, processing, and learning.
For young people who are in school or college, it’s even more of a problem! When the brain isn’t working properly, they can’t learn new things! This can be detrimental to their studies, which will have a knock-on effect on their working lives too.
WHAT IS HARMING OUR SLEEP?
Research has shown that looking at our phones, tablets or laptops before going to bed is more damaging to our health than you might think! The simple story is that staring at a bright screen will keep you from falling asleep.
But there’s more to it than that. Blue light is found in flat screen technology, such as smartphones and tablets. It’s also found in natural sunlight. The sun holds a literal rainbow of colors, and they all hold different levels of energy. The blue light from the sun holds more energy than, say, the red light.
When the blue light enters the retina of the eye, it suppresses the production of a hormone called melatonin. Melatonin regulates our body temperature, blood pressure, and hormone levels. It works together with your circadian rhythm, which allows you to have great quality sleep!
So, when we use technology with blue light, it impedes our quality of sleep. And that does more than just make you feel a bit tired – it can have lasting effects on your health, relationships and work life.
Alcohol and Caffeine
It may seem obvious that caffeine would stop you from sleeping, but how late in the day are you drinking your final coffee? Caffeine can take up to 6 hours to lose its effect. So next time you’re thinking of having a coffee in the afternoon, consider its impact on your sleep.
With so many coffee shops popping up, and the exciting look of the coffees, it’s no wonder the United States consumes more coffee than any other nation! [vi] Plus, we all know how great it is to feel that buzz in the morning. But even tea can cause your sleep to suffer. Caffeine not only stops you from sleeping longer hours but actually keeps you from falling into a deep sleep, which is bad for your circadian rhythm.
Alcohol isn’t for everyone, but for some, it’s their release. A nice glass of wine at the end of the day with dinner, lovely! But when you drink alcohol, your REM (rapid eye movement) sleep is reduced. REM is responsible for you remembering your dreams and is an essential part of a great night’s sleep.
So, although alcohol might send you to sleep quicker, it’s not allowing you to get the quality of sleep you need. It can add to the problems of sleep apnea, by suppressing your breathing. If you’re not a snorer, alcohol might just make you one!
Lack Of Exercise
Exercise is vital to having a healthy lifestyle. Scientists recommend at least 30 minutes of walking per day but doing a bit more will get your body pumping, and will really improve your sleep.
There are a number of ways exercise can help. One of the main reasons is it’s benefit to your overall health. Exercise keeps the heart and other organs working properly and improve your immune function. This means that there’s less disruption to your body, meaning you can get to sleep without health disturbances!
It also reduces stress and anxiety – so you’ll have a healthier mind. With that, you’ll have fewer worries. I think we can all relate to lying awake in bed worrying about something or another, and those thoughts popping up in a dream (or nightmare). It’s not uncommon, so taking care of your mind will help you get the right quality of sleep. And that, in turn, will help you feel happier too!
But, make sure you’re not exercising too close to bedtime. If you do, the blood will still be pumping, and you’ll still feel stimulated and energized from the exercise. So, it’s best to exercise in the mornings if you can!
The modern lifestyle has people feeling busier than ever and falling into bad habits. But, to be honest, a lot of us are only just learning which habits are bad! So hopefully now you know what you should and shouldn’t be doing to get the best quality sleep possible! We shouldn’t need convincing that sleeping is great, but if you or your loved one is prioritizing other activities over sleep, try a few changes. Keep the phone out of the bedroom, have a decaf coffee after lunch, or swap your gym class from evening to morning. You’ll be thankful! Sweet dreams, all!
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