Sleep – Vital for Health

Get enough sleep! 

Close up of Indian woman sleeping in bedSleep is a crucial period where our brains and body rest, renew and regenerate.   Healthy and fulfilling sleep is necessary for long-term health (just ask anybody who suffers from insomnia!).   Having a deep, restful sleep is important for all of us. 

Not getting enough sleep can have severe consequences.  According to the National Sleep Foundation, “short sleep duration is linked with:

  • Increased risk of motor vehicle accidents
  • Increase in body mass index – a greater likelihood of obesity due to an increased appetite caused by sleep deprivation
  • Increased risk of diabetes and heart problems
  • Increased risk for psychiatric conditions including depression and substance abuse
  • Decreased ability to pay attention, react to signals or remember new information”.

According to researchers Michael H. Bonnet and Donna L. Arand, “There is strong tiredevidence that sufficient shortening or disturbance of the sleep process compromises mood, performance and alertness and can result in injury or death. In this light, the most common-sense ‘do no injury’ medical advice would be to avoid sleep deprivation.”{National Sleep Foundation, 2009, How Much Sleep Do We Really Need?}

But there is no easy answer to how much sleep you actually need or should get.   We are all different and our need for sleep can vary widely.   Getting too little sleep is obviously not great, but getting too much has generally been found to also contribute to a poorer state of health.  On average, adults need about 7 hours per night, with the general range being 7 – 9 hours.   Older adults have the same basic needs.  A child needs more sleep, as do teenagers.

Developing healthy sleep habits are really important, and it is good to start these at an early age with our own children.  

Some ideas that are conducive to a better, more renewing sleep are the following:  

  • Don’t eat too late in the evening, generally, stop eating by 7 pm.   Digestion can interfere with the relaxing process.  
  • Avoid exercising too late in the day.  Give yourself at least 3 – 4 hours after exercising before you try to sleep.  
  • Avoid drinking alcohol, especially in excess, in the evenings, as it also interferes with a healthy sleep.   Alcohol is a depressant and will make you feel sleepy, but it can increase the amount of time needed to fall asleep and also interferes with normal sleep patterns.   You will generally not feel rested after a hard night of ‘partying’.  
  • Use your bedroom only for sleeping and sex.   This is important, best not to have your office or a TV or computer in your room.   Your brain can have a harder time ‘shutting off’ if work and distractions are right there.
  • Watching TV at night, especially the news, not only keeps the bad news on your brain all night but can stimulate your mind so much that you really prolong the time needed to fall asleep.   
  • Keep your atmosphere relaxed, and comfortable.   Try to have a cool temperature and darkness as much as possible. 
  • Be consistent with your bedtime and wake time, even on the weekends!  
  • Have a comfortable bed and bed coverings/pillows. 
  • Have a regular nighttime routine, starting roughly an hour before sleep, for example, a warm bath, brushing teeth, reading (not an overly ‘exciting’ book – or you will be tempted to just “read one more chapter”) and really winding down for the day.

These are some ideas for you.   Look at your sleep habits and assess whether you are getting the amount of sleep that prepares you for your day.   Do you feel rested?  Energetic?   Sleep can be an area to look at.

sleep1.jpg

Melatonin can be a helpful sleep aid.  Melatonin is a naturally occurring hormone made in our pineal gland in the brains.  We make less melatonin naturally as we age.   Things like artificial lighting, especially the blue light from screens, time zone changes and going to bed too late can decrease melatonin levels further.

And sleeping pills?  Not your ideal solution.  They can be habit forming and also interfere with the normal stages of sleep, and often, even if you sleep, you don’t feel rested.  The side effects can be daytime drowsiness, memory issues, headaches and more.  Use only for short-term, acute situations.

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