Week 12 - Sleep keeps your heart healthy! As we approach the final week of the challenge, lets talk about the benefits sleep can give our heart health, as well as briefly revisit our first week's challenge. Sleep is still a very mysterious state, often marred with myths or attached to many different "facts" from its researchers. Because of this, Doctors have often been quick to ignore the importance of sleep to our wellbeing, but now, as we begin to understand its importance, we can improve our heart health and general wellbeing by ensuring your sleeping patterns are right. Sleep keeps your heart healthy! Sleep interacts with our blood vessels in a certain way, that makes heart attacks and strokes more likely to occur during the early morning hours. This of course doesn't necessarily mean that waking up early increases your likelihood of getting a heart attack, however the fact that they are more likely to occur during this time has allowed research to confirm a correlation. This correlation between sleep and the blood vessels surrounding our heart, shows that a lack of sleep can be associated with the worsening of blood pressure and cholesterol; both things that as you know by now, incerase the risk of heart attacks and strokes. Although sleep patterns are different for everybody, and its most important to find a consistent routine of sleeping and waking; it is recommended that 7-9 hours of sleep per night, will keep your sleep from negatively impacting your heart health. Less stress = better heart health! As discussed on this blog many times over these 11 weeks, stress is something that can increase your blood pressure. Not only this, but the body begins to produce specific stress related hormones that can make it difficult to fall asleep, or more importantly fall into a consistent sleeping pattern throughout your weeks. If your sleep is affected by stress, then not only will your blood pressure naturally be increased, but your heart health may suffer from your lack of decent sleep. Whilst it is difficult, or near impossible for some people to combat their stress - especially when trying to sleep; you can try many different relaxation techniques to assist you in drifting off. A personal favourite of mine, as I suffer greatly from stress, is to read a book or do some brain exercising puzzles like Sudoku or Wordsearches before bed (preferably not on a brightly lit screen!). This allows your brain to focus itself on something unrelated, and can be a surefire way to subconsciously train yourself to switch off when the time is right. Inflammation With a lack of sleep, stress can manifest even easier. It's an endless circle, where one motivates the other. This increase of stress and the hormones it brings raises the level of inflammation in your body. This same inflammation can be cause for many heart related conditions, aswell as Cancer and Diabetes. More sleep, more energy! It goes without saying that a good night's sleep can make you feel more energised throughout the day. Although waking up in the morning never feels easy, the energy that you will begin to feel throughout the day will make up for it. Having more energy means being more alert, active and engaged; meaning that when it comes to night again, your body will feel the effects of this and be ready to rest as the night winds in. This is a similar endless circle to the one above, except its only positive. More energy, means more activity and alertness; which in turn means better sleep and thus more energy after that. Again, this is where the importance of having a consistent sleeping pattern/routine throughout your weeks comes into play. Somebody who consistently gets 7 hours of sleep every day, and wakes up at a set time every day, allows their body to know when to efficiently conserve and spend its energy, plus when to switch off and relax. If somebody get 7 hours some days, 8 hours others and 9+ on others; all whilst waking up or going to sleep at different times - this person's body will not know when is right to conserve or spend its energy.Although this person may be getting more sleep overall, they don't have a specific routine for their body to get used too. Sleep more, lose weight! Now if we combine all of these things together, you are going to bed at a specific time every night and waking up at a specific time in the morning, not only will your stress be at a minimal level and you have lots of energy; but you will lose weight too! Poor sleep, or lack thereof, impacts the balance of hormones in your body that effect your appetite. These hormones grehlin and leptin, which regulate your appetite have been found to be heavily disrupted depending on your sleep, meaning a consistent sleeping pattern, keeps these hormones consistent too. Don't forget to drink more water! And now we can tie all of this up by revisiting week 1. Drinking more water. There is no need on reiterating the benefits of drinking more water, as you should all be aware of this by now (you can revisit that week here) but it can also help you if you struggle to get up when that dreaded alarm rings in the morning. Taking a glass of water with you to bed, not only ensures that your body stays hydrated throughout the night, allowing your body to maximise its potential of staying in a deep sleep; but you may find that your body will naturally wake you up from the alarm thats in your bladder! I think we all know that "when we are up, we are up", its the actually getting out of the comfort of your bed thats difficult, so if you are given that extra push from Mother Nature herself, then it might help you get out of bed in the morning!