The health benefits of sleep

19.07.2021 Category: General Health Author: Dr Belinda Griffiths

Sleep is one of our greatest allies when it comes to health and wellbeing. It is associated with a number of health benefits which can have a huge positive impact on our daily lives.

Conversely, a lack of sleep can be detrimental – research has even found that not getting enough sleep can negatively impact some aspects of brain function to a similar degree as alcohol intoxication!

Dr Belinda Griffiths discusses some of the mental and physical health benefits of getting a good night’s sleep. 

Immune System

During sleep, your body releases cytokines, which are essential for the regulation of the immune system. Cytokines are required in increased amounts when you are attacked by a pathogen (when you’re ill) or under stress. The level of cytokines increases during sleep, and therefore lack of sleep hinders the body’s ability to fight infections. This is also the reason why the body tends to sleep more while suffering from an infection. 

Weight Control

When you’re well-rested, you’re less hungry. Being sleep deprived disrupts the hormones in your brain (Leptin and Ghrelin) that control appetite.

With those out of balance, your resistance to the temptation of unhealthy foods goes way down. And when you’re tired, you’re less likely to want to get up and move your body. Together, it’s a recipe for putting on the pounds!

Athletic Achievement

If your sport requires quick bursts of energy, like wrestling or weightlifting, sleep loss may not affect you as much as endurance sports like running, swimming, and biking. But you’re not doing yourself any favours. Besides robbing you of your energy and time for muscle repair, lack of sleep saps your motivation, which is what gets you across the finish line. You’ll face a harder mental and physical challenge – and see slower reaction times. Proper rest sets you up for your best performance. 

Memory

When you’re tired, you can have difficulty recalling information. That’s because sleep plays a big part in both learning and memory. Without sufficient sleep, the brain finds it difficult to focus and take in new information in the first place and then doesn’t have enough time to properly store information as short-term memories. Sleep helps enable you to retain memories and store information.

Sleep also allows for your mind to rest, repair and rebuild, the same way it does for your body. As you sleep, your brain begins to organise and process all the information you’ve taken in during the day. It converts these short-term memories into long-term memories – this helps you to learn.

Concentration 

Not sleeping properly can mean that both your body and brain don’t function properly the next day. It can impair your attention span, concentration, strategic thinking, risk assessment, reaction times and problem-solving skills. This is particularly important if you have a big decision to make, are driving, or are operating heavy machinery. So, getting plenty of sleep can help you stay sharp and focused all day long. 

Mood 

Another thing your brain does while you sleep is process your emotions. Your mind needs this time in order to recognise and react in the right way. When you cut that short, you tend to have more negative emotional reactions and fewer positive ones. Lack of sleep can cause bad temper and anxiety, so the better you sleep, the better your ability to stay calm, controlled and reasonable. 

Chronic lack of sleep can also raise your chance of having a mood disorder. One large study found that people with insomnia were five times more likely to develop depression, and the odds of having anxiety or panic disorders are even greater.

A refreshing slumber helps you hit the reset button on a bad day, improve your outlook on life, and be better prepared to meet the challenges of the next day.

Heart Health 

While you sleep, your blood pressure goes down giving your heart and blood vessels a bit of a rest. The less sleep you get, the longer your blood pressure stays up during a 24-hour cycle. High blood pressure can lead to heart disease and strokes. Therefore, it is important to keep your blood pressure down. 

Pain Threshold

Poor sleep and pain mutually reinforce each other. Sleep deprivation increases pain sensitivity and reduces pain tolerance. Therefore, something will feel more painful when you’re tired. 

It is clear that sleep is an essential part of helping us stay physically and mentally healthy. What better excuse to have a few extra hours of sleep a day! 

If have any concerns about your health, book a GP appointment today.

Is Your Sleep Position Impacting Your Sleep Quality?

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Is Your Sleep Position Impacting Your Sleep Quality?

19.07.2019 Category: Osteopathy Author: Andrew Doody

A good night’s sleep is essential to your health, and an important part of your overall well-being. Back pain can significantly affect a person’s ability to get the quality and amount of sleep they need. Furthermore, poor bed posture can worsen or even be the cause of backache in the first place. This is because certain positions can place unnecessary pressure on the neck, hips, and back. Here are some pointers of how to maximise the quality of sleep you get if you are suffering from back pain.

Experiment with different sleeping positions.

Finding the best sleeping positions can help ease your back pain. Make sure you have found one or two that are comfortable for you. Having more than one helps so that you are not stuck in the same position for hours on end. Everyone sleeps differently. So, there’s not one perfect position, but a good place to start is by making sure the head, shoulders, and hips are in alignment. The best way to do this is usually by sleeping on the back or side.

Back sleeping

Lying on the back is probably the best all-around sleeping position for a healthy back. It ensures good spinal alignment from the head and cervical vertebrae, through the thoracic and lumbar, all the way down to the pelvis. Because the back is the body’s largest area, weight is most widely distributed in this position, minimising pressure hot spots. However, if you have any lumbar spinal issues, you may feel more comfortable with a pillow placed under your knees. This is because many areas that cause backache in the lumbar spine are at the back, the facet joints and nerve roots. Placing a pillow under the knees allows the lumbar spine to gently flex and gap posteriorly, taking the pressure off these joints and nerves.

Side-lying/ Foetal position

Many people naturally end up slightly flexing their spine for the same reason, by lying on their side with their knees towards their chest a little, the so-called foetal position. This may work well if your issue is more disc-related. Side-lying like this is often the position people find most comfortable. It can, however, twist the spine a little and put it out of alignment. To correct this, if you prefer sleeping on your side, place a firm pillow between your knees. This stops the upper leg falling forward and raises it. This will restore the alignment of the spine, hips and pelvis.

Front sleeping

Try to avoid sleeping on your stomach if you can. This position puts a lot of strain on your back by over-extending it. Unfortunately, for a lot of people, it’s the only position they can fall asleep in, or any other position makes them snore. If you’re one of them, try putting a pillow under your stomach to take some of the pressure off your back. If you’re someone who falls asleep on their back or side, then rolls over in their sleep and wakes up on their stomach, try hugging a large pillow against your chest and stomach to keep you in position. Another reason sleeping on the front is considered bad is because the head is usually turned to one side. This twists the spine and places additional stress on the neck, shoulders, and back. To avoid this, you can try lying face down. Place a small firm pillow or tightly rolled-up towel under the forehead, or better still a face pillow, allowing room to breathe. In this position, you should still place a pillow under the stomach.

Reclined sleeping

If all else fails, you can try sleeping in a reclined position. People with spondylolisthesis, for instance, may resort to this after finding it comfortable falling asleep in a recliner chair. There are beds available that can be sat up slightly. So, this is worth investigating.

Invest in a good mattress

It’s worth it! You spend about a third of your life on your mattress. Spend a little more money on the mattress and a little less on the car! You really do get what you pay for.

Firmness

People generally find slightly firmer mattresses work well for lumbar spine problems. This is probably due to what we discussed earlier, in which, the lumbar curve is allowed to extend a little, taking the pressure off the facet joints and nerve roots. This only really follows if you sleep on your back though. People that prefer to side-lie may well find a slightly softer mattress allows your hips and shoulders to sink in a little. Therefore, helping to maintain spinal alignment. This is particularly important if your hips are wider than your waist. Also, for people suffering from upper back issues, too firm a mattress may put unnecessary pressure on the ribcage and therefore upper spine in any position. Perhaps a good compromise here is a ‘pillow top” mattress. This is a good supportive mattress with a softer layer on top. By all means, try different kinds of mattresses, but remember, one night is not enough to really judge. People often sleep in a hotel bed and find it comfortable so decide to buy it. Those mattresses are often designed for short term comfort, not long term support.

Bases

Generally, it’s better to have the mattress do the supporting rather than the base, so a plain platform base is usually best. Having said that some slightly sprung bases do seem to combine well with certain mattresses if they have been designed to do so. If you find the mattress more comfortable on a sprung base, perhaps it’s worth trying a slightly softer mattress on a platform base.

Be ‘Bed Fit’

The healthier and stronger your back is, the better night’s sleep you will get and the better your back will be when you get up in the morning.

Core strengthening exercises will help support the back during the night and prevent back spasms. Gentle stretching before bed can increase flexibility and help to relax the body and reduce stress.

Take care getting in, and especially out, of bed. Take your time. When you wake up in a morning, allow a few minutes to get your muscles and joints moving fully instead of leaping out of bed at the alarm. Roll onto your side then use your arms to push you upright while your legs drop over the side, the sit there for a minute moving gently before slowly standing up.

Perhaps most importantly, if you do have a back or musculoskeletal issue, get it checked. A health professional can assess why you’re suffering and help treat the symptoms. They can suggest the correct investigations, treatment and exercises, as well as further helping you to choose that all important correct mattress.

Booking an appointment with an osteopath could be the start of ending your back pain for good!

Book an osteopathy appointment.

By Andrew Doody |  Osteopath | July 2019

Is it time for a digital detox?

19.05.2018 Category: Occupational Health Author: Occupational Health Team

Do you often find yourself trawling through Instagram just before going to bed? Waking up and checking your emails before you even have a shower or a coffee? Former Facebook chief marketing officer Randi Zuckerberg hit the nail on the head when she said that people need to understand that while “the phone is an amazing tool, we own our devices, they don’t own us.” It’s time for your digital detox.

The average smartphone user checks their phone 221 times a day. The Oxford English Dictionary defines a digital detox as “a period of time during which a person refrains from using electronic devices such as smartphones or computers, regarded as an opportunity to reduce stress or focus on social interaction in the physical world.”

By periodically unplugging, you can start reclaiming real life experiences rather than living in a virtual world. So how can we get this started?

Appreciate the silence – We have become so accustomed to filling every spare moment with digital noise. Try hitting reset on your brain from time to time and take a few moments to just let your mind wander.  Be comfortable with silence, slow down and be present in the moment without the glow of a screen.

Kick technology out of the bedroom – Give yourself a technology curfew and when you say “lights out” actually mean it.  Harvard researchers have found that technological devices such as phones, tablets and laptops can disrupt melatonin production, sleep quality and mood. To avoid temptation, banish your devices from the bedroom and try using an old fashioned alarm clock!

Socialise in the real world – Let’s face it, how many of the people you follow on your social media are actually your close friends? At 1am when you are struggling to sleep, do you really need to look at pictures of what they ate for lunch? Whilst social media can have its uses and be a positive influence, it can have a negative effect on our wellbeing as a result of comparing our lives to those carefully edited for show.

Hit the pause button – Be conscious of how often you check your phone – next time you go to reach for technology, hit the metaphorical pause button. Take a breath and think about what you are going to get out of it. Is there a more meaningful and productive way to spend your time, such as going for a walk and getting some fresh air and movement instead?

We get 525,600 precious minutes a year, how you choose to spend them is up to you.

“If it doesn’t add to your life it doesn’t belong in your life”

Speak to our occupational health experts for advice on how to take a digital detox today on 020 7353 5678.