7 ways your body benefits from sleep

How to age-proof your skin and boost your immune system.

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Along with a healthy diet and regular exercise, sleep is essential for our bodies to function at their best. While the lifespan for Australian women has increased by 10 years over the past seventy years, we now sleep two hours less each night.

While we are sleeping our bodies are hard at work repairing damaged and tired cells from our face to our feet. Good sleep is vital for healthy skin and a strong immune system. Studies suggest that adults need seven to eight hours of sleep each night. Our bodies need this time to regenerate everything from our skin cells to our major organs.

Do you wake up puffy in the morning? Our kidneys work to remove fluid and toxins while we sleep. Not getting enough sleep stops normal fluid balancing. This shows as puffiness in our skin, especially around our eyes. This is only one of the many things that happen in our bodies when we're asleep.

How your skin benefits from sleep

The skin is the largest organ of the body. It's the first line of defence against UV radiation, free radicals and other environmental toxins that are the leading cause of premature ageing.

When we sleep our body switches to repair and maintenance mode. Toxins are eliminated through our skin, damaged skin cells are fixed, and new skin cells produced. Circulation is increased which brings more oxygen and nutrients to your skin. And natural collagen production increases.

Poor sleep can lead to increased stress hormones in the body. These increase the severity of inflammatory skin conditions like acne, psoriasis, eczema and dermatitis, and skin sensitivity

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.

Dr Libby Weaver, Author | Women's Wellness Wisdom

How sleep strengthens your immune system

When we are sleeping, our bodies produce and release cytokines. These are a type of protein that creates an immune response to target infection and inflammation. Cytokines also help to protect us from chronic diseases like type 2 diabetes, obesity and heart disease.

If we aren't getting enough sleep, we don't produce enough cytokines, and our immune system is compromised. Research has shown that taking short naps during the day (no longer than 30 minutes each) can help to make up sleep time.

Lack of sleep disrupts your hormones.

Several of the body's hormones are released when we are sleeping. Ghrelin and leptin help to balance our appetite. HGH (human growth hormone) is essential for tissue repair, prolactin regulates our immune system. Sleep also releases insulin so that we wake up hungry ready to fuel our bodies with breakfast. Our cortisol levels rise before we wake up to prepare us for daytime stress. Melatonin is released when it gets dark to tell our body it's time to sleep. This is why being around too much bright light before bed can affect our sleep.

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A good night's sleep lowers your stress levels.

When we are stressed, our bodies are in a constant state of alertness and want us to stay awake to stay safe. You're unable to calm your thoughts and lay awake at night, worrying about your finances, relationship, work, or whatever else is bothering you. If you take steps to relax and unwind before bed, you'll sleep better.

It's easier to deal with daily life after a good nights sleep. Try to make time for exercise, friends and family and other activities that help you to relax and prioritise sleep. A simple nightly ritual can help, along with having a set time to go to bed and to get up in the morning.

High stress and lack of sleep both contribute to more significant risks for mental and physical illness. Stress and insufficient sleep are each independently linked to obesity and weight gain, anxiety and depression, type 2 diabetes and other metabolic disorders, cardiovascular disease, and cognitive dysfunction.

Dr Breus, Clinical Psychologist

Your digestion will improve.

Sleep gives our digestive system a chance to rest. Our body uses a lot of energy every day, so when we slow down and relax, it gives our digestive system a break. It's also a chance for our digestive system to function - rest and digest mode. Try not to eat a large meal for an hour or so before bed so that your stomach isn't full, as this can cause reflux.

It will be easier to maintain or lose weight.

Lack of sleep can make it hard to control your appetite. The two hormones responsible for hunger (ghrelin) and satiety (leptin) are thrown off balance by lack of sleep. This imbalance can trigger food cravings and make it hard for your body to signal when it's full. A good sleep pattern is vital if you want to lose weight or maintain your ideal weight.

You'll feel stronger mentally.

Having enough sleep is a significant factor in our ability to deal with the demands of a busy life. We are bombarded with information continuously during the day, and our brains need the downtime that comes when we sleep to process this information. Having enough sleep assists with learning and improves concentration and creativity. Sleep deprivation is linked to negative thinking, depression, anxiety and emotional vulnerability.

Good sleep is vital for healthy skin, a strong immune system and hormonal balance. Studies show that those with a good sleep pattern have faster reaction times, longer attention spans, better moods and more energy. They are also less likely to overeat and gain weight.

Lack of sleep has been linked to premature ageing, lethargy, diabetes, high blood pressure, stress, heart disease and compromised immunity.

You can improve your sleep by winding down for an hour before bed. Try drinking camomile tea and avoid TV and computers. Try meditating, deep breathing or reading a slow book. Create a sleep sanctuary in your bedroom by banning all technology and having block out window coverings. If you don't fall asleep after 20-30 minutes, get up and do something relaxing and quiet until you feel ready to sleep.

Natural remedies like valerian, melatonin and a few drops of lavender oil on your pillow can also help, but talk to your health professional first.

What's your favourite tip for getting those all-important eight hours of sleep? 

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