You don’t need anyone to tell you that sleep is good for your health. That kind of rudimentary knowledge, the fact that we need sleep to survive, goes without saying. Although many of us never examine precisely why sleep is so important — perhaps we should.
Having a deeper understanding of sleep and its profound impact on our daily lives is the first step to addressing any associated barriers to an optimal rest. To do this, you can spend days trawling the vast amount of literature out there, or you could simply find an insightful book like Why We Sleep: The New Science of Sleep and Dreams by noted neuroscientist and sleep researcher Matthew Walker. The latter, a rich conspectus of sleep and its profound effects, tracks twenty years of cutting-edge research to give detailed, accessible and actionable information on a state of being that takes up a significant portion of our lives.
Why sleep is important
So why is sleep important? It’s the painfully simple question that has echoed through time and will continue to do so for as long as humans exist. Getting sufficient sleep each night is the bedrock of good health, and the lack of it can not only put us at risk for major lifestyle diseases but subject us to dangerous lapses of concentration, severely interrupting daily life. That’s the long-short answer of why sleep is good for us, but of course, it goes much deeper than that.
Walker illustrates many insights surrounding sleep, but perhaps none as important as his focus on the body’s “primeval timepiece” — the string-pulling, show-running internal clock known as our circadian rhythm. It’s this highly individualised, often fragile and commanding 24-hour cycle that our body is naturally inclined to follow. Hence, it dictates when we eat and drink, and is even partly responsible for our moods and our metabolic rate.
Thus, people with their circadian rhythms out of sync with a largely morning-oriented society generally have a more challenging time with daily life. These people are often the ones that are most sleep-deprived, meaning that they are much more likely to suffer from illnesses like diabetes, depression and cancer.
Things that affect a good night’s sleep
There are many variables that affect a good’s night sleep, often determining the quality and restorative function of our rest at every level. Broadly speaking, the most significant external factors are how light and sound occupy our space, what the room temperature and air quality are like, the amount of exercise we get during our day, and the food and drink that we consume.
Diet and exercise particularly share a correlative relationship with sleep. But light and sound are often overlooked as key components for rest. Whether it’s the lack of natural sunlight that wakes us up, blinking lights on a nearby device when we’re trying to go to bed, or disruptive environmental noise, these crucial aspects to the sleep environment can often have insurmountable costs. But they can help too. For example, white noise is now commonly used in smartphone apps for its ability to moderate intermittent noise levels and provide a consistent and reliable backdrop for better quality sleep, slotting into a similar category to gentle raindrops and a quiet storm.
The varied considerations when it comes to sleep is why personal wellness tracking has become such a big market in recent years. A litany of useful wearables roll out each year, as well as new and exciting technological advancements like Withings’ Sleep Analyser, a mat that simply slides underneath your mattress and monitors your various restful states for detailed data across breathing, heart rate, snoring and potential issues like sleep apnoea.
Increasingly, more studies are beginning to survey the effect of room temperature and air quality on sleep. Various findings to date have implicated these seemingly negligible factors as large determinants, even going so far as to link air pollution with sleep apnea.
Ways to improve sleep quality
Once you know what affects sleep, you can efficiently work towards finding the solutions that are right for you. But generalities help as well.
As an example, for light, Walker suggests getting a good amount of natural sunlight during the day, which in turn helps the body regulate its internal sleep pattern. Once in the bedroom (or wherever you choose to sleep), open the curtains so that the sun is what stirs you in the morning, taking precedence over an alarm clock.
Downloading a sounds app would allow you a degree of control over what kind of white noise helps lull you to sleep, whether that’s an artificial simulation of rain sounds or something else entirely. The beauty of having a vast range of apps available is that you can find the one that’s exactly right for you.
Walker suggests keeping room temperature relatively low to help you get to sleep. Our body temperature naturally rises throughout the night as we approach waking – something that many would recognise if they’ve ever woken up in the middle of the night covered in sweat. Keeping the room temperature low obviously helps balance this.
Air quality is perhaps one of the more overlooked aspects of a good night’s sleep and is arguably the most important — definitely the easiest to fix. The insidious way in which poor air quality can affect you during sleep has been the subject of few studies, but as mentioned above, an increased awareness is leading to more in-depth examinations as to the way air quality and sleep interact.
One study published in 2019 in the Annals of the American Thoracic Society found that a participant’s odds of developing sleep apnea increased by a sizable 60 per cent for every 5 micrograms per cubic meter increase in yearly PM5 exposure. With all we know about how air pollution can affect our lungs over time, it also stands to reason that unclean air is a strong implication in sleeping problems.
An efficient air purifier like Samsung’s intelligent AX5500K is ideal for those who want to ensure clean air while they sleep, without having to put in much effort. This 3-way airflow purifier, in particular, is a good choice because of its whisper-quiet night mode, which runs as low as 21dBA and won’t introduce noise pollution, while at the same time keeping the air in any room up to 60-square-meters free of disruptive pollutants.
The AX5500K comes with specialised sensors which automatically mirror and adjust, in real-time, to keep air quality healthy while you sleep. This includes a true HEPA filter – which removes 99.97% of ultra-fine dust and inhibits the spread of captured bacteria – as well as a washable pre-filter for larger particles, as well as an activated carbon deodorisation filter.
It’s evident that getting a good night’s sleep does require some small lifestyle changes (assuming you haven’t made them already) and a heady dose of discipline. But given the health implications, and the pervasive effect it can have on your waking life, paying close attention to the determinants of quality sleep is, unambiguously, one of the most important things you could ever do.