Measuring sleep

By: Judy Davie - The Food Coach

There's an extraordinary number of people these days who now wear a measureable device which are they're pretty great if you want to track your levels of activity. The 70 + year old mother of a friend of mine managed to lose 10 kg by, she claimed, maintaining 10,000 steps a day over a period of months. Personally I reckon the steps motivated her to eat less but who cares, it worked and she looks amazing. There's no doubt an activity tracker is a great thing to encourage consistent daily activity, but what about it telling us how much sleep we get each night?

I wore a Fitbit for a while and the activity tracker was less interesting to me than the sleep tracking function. When set to a normal setting it told me I'd slept far better than I thought I'd slept, and when set to the sensitive setting it told me I'd hardly slept a wink: At that news I dragged my feet through the day believing I could hardly function and almost certainly felt worse than I might have done had I been less informed.

I get the point about having a sleep tracker. Regular good night's sleep is critical to great health, but in my case anyway, being told how much sleep I'd had, or not, added to my sleep stress. Mothers with newborn babies, shift workers, stress heads and menopausal woman know all about sleep stress and the effects it has on the body.

An activity tracker can motivate people to achieve a daily activity target because they can actively do something about it, in real time. A sleep tracker is slightly different as the information is provided retrospectively, that is after the event of a good or bad night's sleep.
Rather than know how much or how little sleep you have had, it's much better plan to implement strategies to sleep better.

According to a 2016 research paper from the Adelaide Institute for Sleep Health, 33 - 45% of Australian Adults suffer from inadequate sleep. If we take it as a given that we can all implement better sleep strategies, it's worth first recognising why it's important to consistently enjoy a good night's sleep.

The following is an extract from the Adelaide Institute for Sleep Health Report

Specific sleep disorders, such as obstructive sleep apnea (OSA), have been strongly linked to a variety of health problems and chronic diseases, such coronary heart disease, stroke, atrial fibrillation, diabetes, hypertension, depression, erectile dysfunction, nocturia, cognitive impairment and mortality risk. Symptoms of sleep problems, such as snoring and breathing pauses during sleep have also been associated with increased risk of heart disease. Insomnia, defined as difficulty getting off to sleep or maintaining sleep with daytime symptoms such as fatigue, is also associated with increased risk of mortality.
Shortened sleep time also carries health risks and may adversely affect metabolic health through changes in the activity of neuroendocrine systems. Studies show sleeping less than six or seven hours on average per night may increase the risk for obesity, type 2 diabetes, and heart disease.
Sleep deprivation affects the body's metabolism, including glucose metabolism. Laboratory studies have consistently found short-term sleep loss decreases glucose tolerance and insulin sensitivity. Research has also found that when sleep-deprived, people increase intake of comfort foods high in fat and sugar. These changes to body metabolism and eating behaviour with sleep-deprivation will tend to increase the risk of obesity and diabetes. Population level studies have also shown that people who sleep less than 8 hours on average have a higher body mass index and show changes in the hormones that control appetite, such as ghrelin, contributing to the risk of obesity. Short sleep also reduces natural immune function, increasing the risk of infections and possibly cancer. Reduced sleep is also liked to hypertension and heart disease, possibly by triggering overactivity in the body's stress responses such as sympathetic hyperactivity or inflammation. Sleep disorders, other sleep problems and insufficient sleep are linked to cognitive function and mental well-being. Disturbance in mood, thinking, concentration, memory, learning, vigilance and reaction times have been reported.

So we now know how critically important it is to get a good night's sleep, how do we do it?

Here are my top 6 tips:

1. Improve sleep by maintaining a healthy diet
If you are carrying excess weight there is a good chance that your sleep is impaired. If you're not carrying excess weight and your sleep is continually impaired there's a good chance you will eat more fat and sugar which will ultimately lead to weight gain. Chicken or egg who knows, what we do know is how important it is to manage your weight through a healthy diet.

2. Improve sleep with regular exercise
Physical activity is a good strategy to tire the body and calm an overactive mind. Choose an activity that you enjoy which you can fit into your day without adding extra stress to the day. Exercise is best in the morning and worst just before going to bed.

3. Implement a consistent retire and rise time routine
The old saying early to bed early to rise has so much merit if you want to get a good night's sleep. For those without much to do it the day it may seem like there's not a lot to get up for but when you're feeling bright and alert you'll be amazed at what you can find to do. We are creatures of nature and while we may fight against it our bodies crave routine.

4. Change your sheets regularly
I feel bad writing this as it's pretty obvious but it's a worthy reminder, even if it's just for myself. We all sleep better in between clean sheets. Microbiologist Laura Bowater, recommends washing them once a week at a minimum of 60 C to destroy bacteria. Dry sheets and pillowcases in direct sunlight if possible because the UV light is effective in killing micro-organisms. Run a hot iron over pillowcases to kill any leftover bacteria.

5. Turn off your screens and electronic lights
TV, social media, streaming movies we all do it and many of us do it in bed. As tempting as it may be to see what the world is doing before we switch off the lights, let the world wait until the next day after you wake up. Even the light from a lit up screen in the room may affect your sleep. The light from our devices is "short-wavelength-enriched," meaning it has a higher concentration of blue light than natural light-and blue light affects levels of the sleep-inducing hormone melatonin more than any other wavelength.

6. Avoid caffeine, chocolate, and alcohol
A cup of coffee drunk in the morning will still be in your system 10 hours later, which may not be a bad thing when you drink it at 8.00 am but it's bad news if it's still coursing through your body when you're lying in bed trying to sleep 3 hours after an after dinner espresso. Caffeine is a common stimulant, also found in energy drinks and some medications so before bed replace it with herbal drinks such as valerian and chamomile.

A 70% cocoa chocolate is promoted as a healthy choice but not before bed if you want a good night's sleep. Chocolate contain the antioxidant theobromine which caffeine-like effects and often also contains caffeine.

A glass or two of wine may help you relax and increase your slow-wave "deep" sleep which helps you sleep during the first half of the night, but studies show that alcohol increases sleep disruptions in the second half of the night.

An one more
Take off that measureable and leave it alongside your exercise shoes!


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