The rest and recuperation that occurs while we’re asleep is nothing short of miraculous, says sleep-obsessed writer Kate Faithfull-Williams …
Is there anything more frustrating than lying awake worrying in the middle of the night, only to be concerned about how tired you’re going to be tomorrow? “It can be a vicious cycle – when we sleep badly we worry about feeling tired, which makes it even more difficult to sleep well,” says Rachel Boyd from Mind, the mental health charity.
Yet when we get the sleep we need, we experience a positive impact on all aspects of our wellbeing. “Sleep is one of the fundamental things that helps with mental health issues,” says Boyd. “A good night’s sleep can be a comfort if you’re struggling to have a break from difficult feelings. You may wake up feeling more positive, or with a different perspective that helps you face things anew.”
Sleep is one of the best things we can do for our physical health too, which, adds Boyd, can in turn have a positive effect on our mental health. “We need that rest to repair and recover.” Sleep is more powerful than any vitamin for boosting your immune system – it gives us the energy to exercise and the willpower to eat well. When we’re tired, we struggle to look after ourselves.
So what can we do to sleep better? “Establishing a routine and creating a good sleep environment are at the top of the list,” says Boyd, followed by having tools in place to help us de-stress, whether that’s a support network or regular yoga practice.
With World Mental Health Day coming up on 10 October, it’s important to know the benefits of a good night’s sleep, and how to set your bedroom up for eight blissful hours. Here’s what happens to your body during sleep, plus a few suggestions for how to encourage some solid shuteye.
As we drift off, activity in our brains slows down. “But during REM sleep, when we do most of our dreaming, our brainwave patterns look similar to those of being awake,” says Prof Jason Ellis, author of The One-Week Insomnia Cure. What if you wake suddenly from a dream? M&S’s Comfortably Cool Pillow, £15, is perfect for helping you get back to sleep.
Your eyes are make or break for melatonin, the sleepy hormone we produce at night. “Melatonin is only released in the dark, and even small amounts of blue light from a screen at night can suppress its production, potentially making it harder to get to sleep,” says Ellis. Try Ragdale Hall Spa Sleep Candle, £9.50.
Our heart rate calms to a steady, slow rhythm as we fall asleep, then as we start to dream everything changes. “During REM sleep, our heart rate will increase and blood pressure will rise,” says Ellis. That means more oxygen circulating around your body, so you should wake up feeling full of energy.
For about 80% of your sleeping time, you breathe slowly and regularly. As a result, your oxygen levels are lower and your carbon dioxide levels are higher. Make every inhale count with Ragdale Hall Spa Lavender Scented Fragrance Diffuser, £15.
We release heat from our core just before we drift off, and one of the main reasons we can’t sleep is because we’re too hot. What’s more, says Ellis, “heat doesn’t necessarily have to wake us up in order to disrupt our sleep”. M&S’s Comfortably Cool Bedding, from £8, might be the answer for you.
No, it’s not an urban myth: we really do get taller overnight. “During sleep the discs that provide a cushion between your vertebrae swell,” says osteopath Leah Hearle. “When you stand, the spinal fluid is pushed out and you shrink.” So in the morning you can expect to be about 1cm taller.
Between 11pm and midnight, cell renewal and collagen production peaks. This is when your skin needs nutrients the most, and when active ingredients have maximum impact. Formula Absolute Ultimate Sleep Cream, £23, contains peptides and hyaluronic acid to nourish and moisturise your skin.
During the “slow wave” phase of sleep, we produce growth hormones that help repair damaged tissue and muscle. Then, during REM sleep, our muscles are temporarily paralysed – it’s how our body stops us from leaping up to act out our dreams. If your muscles feel sore, try This Works Deep Sleep Bath Soak, £22.
The M&S Sleep Shop has everything you need for a great night’s sleep. To find out more, go to marksandspencer.com/l/the-sleep-shop or visit a Sleep Shop in your local store