Sleep is a biological human need—like it or not, we cannot function without it. Studies indicate that even moderate sleep deprivation has a similar impact to being under the influence of alcohol, highlighting the danger of driving while tired. Yet it is more than just our speed and accuracy that diminishes.
Sleep, and the rest and repair it offers the body, is critical to a healthy and energy-infused life. With great sleep, we have improved memory, cognition and better immune function. Sometimes when I talk about immune function, I sense that the importance of this system doesn’t fully register. Yes, this means minimising colds and flus. Yet, your immune function is critical in the prevention of cancer, as well as in the prevention of autoimmune diseases, such as multiple sclerosis, lupus, Hashimoto’s thyroiditis, Graves’ disease, and coeliac disease—all of which are on the rise. Taking great care of your immune system is of immense importance to your long-term health and quality of life, and sleep plays an enormous role in whether or not your immune system is able to function appropriately.
Everything works better with restorative sleep: your digestive system, sex hormone balance, your mood, your skin, and even your thyroid function. Plus, you have improved mood, enhanced physical and emotional resilience, better energy and increased physical endurance. A recent clinical trial found that sleep quality impacts skin function and ageing. If you have poor sleep quality or do not get enough sleep, your skin finds it harder to recover from free radical damage, such as sun exposure and environmental toxins.
Restorative sleep has such a far-reaching impact. You may just think “Oh, I wake up tired most of the time, but isn’t that normal?” No: it is common, but it is not normal. Many people blame age for why they start to feel more and more tired as the years go by, but it doesn’t have to be this way. If low energy truly was down to age, then every 82-year-old I know would be exhausted, and they’re not! You can make a really big difference to how you feel and function, on both the inside and the outside, through good-quality sleep.
If you are currently caring for young children, it might be that restorative sleep is less available to you right now. In circumstances like this, where your sleep is beyond your control, try not to dwell on it. Embrace the saying “the days are long but the years are short” and remember that your little humans will not need you this way forever. Also lean on your support networks or put measures in place to catch up on sleep when you get the opportunity to. Every little bit counts. And as your little humans grow up, prioritise restorative sleep for yourself. Many women say their sleep never returns to their pre-child days, yet it absolutely can. Your nervous system may just need some additional help to relax.
We may also experience sleep challenges around big changes in our lives, through periods of grief or in response to certain experiences that trigger our stress response. This is a common symptom of ‘stress’—our body is trying to protect us from falling into a deep sleep when it believes it is not physically safe to do so. It can be helpful to know this so that we don’t add stress about not sleeping to our load. Yet, if sleep challenges go beyond a few days, you may benefit from giving your nervous system some additional support.
Medicinal herbs such as ziziphus, withania, chamomile, lemon balm and magnolia can all help to relieve the impact of short and long term stress on the nervous system to foster more restorative sleep. Acupuncture can also be beneficial as can implementing these sleep hygiene habits.