Lifestyle and wellbeing advice from personal trainer and fitness expert Paul David

The importance of good sleep

The importance of good sleep

29th September 2015

Early to bed and early to rise makes a man healthy, wealthy and wise… how many of us remember that from childhood? As a youngster, it’s difficult to appreciate the value of sleep, but as we get older, its impact becomes harder to ignore.

Your body needs sleep, but all too often we dismiss it as a necessary evil. However, building up a sleep deficit is known to have harmful effects, such as impairing your immune system and increasing your risk of heart disease and obesity. A good night’s sleep is more than just something to hope for; it’s an investment in your wellbeing.

The first step in getting good-quality sleep is to create a peaceful sleeping environment. Just because the lights are off and you’re trying to rest, doesn’t mean you’ll be able to. Make sure your bedroom is quiet and uncluttered; this creates a lightness and airiness that your body will appreciate. A small fan can work wonders in drowning out background noise and stopping the room from getting too warm. Finally, invest in a comfortable bed and some indulgent bed linen – this may enhance your sleep more than you realise.

Your bedroom should be a haven of peace and rest. Don’t allow distractions or stresses to invade it, no matter how convenient this might seem. Booting up your laptop on a Saturday morning to catch up on some emails may seem terribly modern, but it forms a link in your mind between your bedroom and non-relaxing activities, which can disrupt your sleep pattern without you realising it.

Get your body used to the idea of rest before you go to bed – don’t assume you can immediately switch off when your head hits the pillow. Stop looking at electronic screens (and by that I don’t just mean your laptop or tablet – that includes your phone and TV too!) a few hours before you go to bed, and you’ll be more relaxed when you actually turn the lights off. Blue light from screens keeps your brain alert and active… not exactly conducive to good rest.

Spend your pre-sleep time doing something genuinely relaxing. Meditation, listening to some soothing music, or just talking to your partner about something non-stressful makes a real difference. Dim the lights a little and you’ll encourage your body to wind down. If you’ve had enough exercise during the day, you’re more likely to be able to relax when it’s time to sleep, so your activities during the daytime play an important role here too.

I always recommend avoiding alcohol as a matter of course, but its importance to sleep can’t be overstated. Alcohol makes you drowsy to begin with, so you might think you’re going to get a great night’s sleep, but it’s actually a stimulant, so even though you might be in the grip of a boozy stupor, your body will be more awake than you realise. This is part of the grogginess you feel the next day – you might have thought you went out like a light, but your body was kept artificially alert.

Heavy meals are bad news for sleep. Your body needs time to process food, so don’t go to bed on a full stomach – you’ll just lie awake with indigestion. Try to eat lighter meals in the evening. Likewise, you should stay away from caffeine once the afternoon is over. That delicious rich latte you’re so fond of could be playing havoc with your quality of sleep! Instead, opt for a drink like camomile tea, which has gentle sedative effects and is known for its stress-reducing properties.

The benefits of good sleep are many and varied, and it only takes a few changes to start to feel the difference. So take a little time to adjust your routine and you’ll be more rested through the night, and more alert during the day!