In today’s fast-paced world, where our minds are busier than ever and we often don’t physically tire our bodies out enough during the day, one of the biggest challenges is getting a good night sleep. Your body and brain’s recharge during a 24-hour period is far more important than you probably realize. From increasing productivity, aiding weight loss and increasing peak performance to improving our mood, quality of life and functionality, it really is the key to better overall health and happiness…
Why Is Sleep So Important?
Your mood and energy while you’re awake depends largely on how you slept the night before, and over the course of the last few nights. Adequate sleep gives your body the opportunity to recover, recharge and heal. For children, it supports growth and development, and for adults, teens and children, it supports healthy brain function and physical health. Therefore, on the other hand, sleep deficiency can be extremely harmful, raising the risk of chronic health problems, including heart disease, as well as potential short-term dangers, like car crashes caused by fatigue. Sleep deprivation has been linked to behavioral problems, emotional turmoil, anger and difficulty coping with change, but it has also been linked to more serious mental issues, including depression and suicide.
Sleep doesn’t only minimize the likelihood of life-threatening incidents and diseases; it also supports everyday health. It helps your brain function properly and encourages emotional well-being. That means everything from work to leisure activities will be more functional, effective and enjoyable. Adequate sleep supports your memory, ability to learn new things and problem solving skills, while also enhancing your attention span and creativity. A healthy sleep pattern strengthens the immune system, increases the body’s ability to heal itself, and supports muscle recovery and formation.
Because sleep is so important to the healing and repairing process of heart and blood vessels, it is extremely vital to maintaining physical health. The risk of diabetes, heart disease, kidney disease, high blood pressure and stroke is increased by chronic sleep deprivation. It can also increase the risk of obesity because a lack of sleep can lead to hormone imbalances that make you feel hungry or full. Similarly, an ongoing lack of sleep can affect the way your body reacts to insulin, the hormone that controls your blood sugar levels, causing it to be higher than normal.
So, how Much Sleep Do I Actually Need?
There are arguments about how much sleep an adult actually needs each night, but the truth is, it’s not as black and white as that. The amount of sleep needed varies quite substantially between individuals. General guidelines suggest between seven and nine hours sleep per night is sufficient, but some people just can’t make themselves sleep that long, and others can’t drag themselves out of bed with only that amount of sleep.
We all have an internal ‘body clock’, which, in scientific terms, is called the circadian process. It is based on our natural sleep tendency over a 24-hour period. We also have homeostatic processes, which are influenced by internal and external factors, including our genes, physical and mental activity, previous sleeping patterns, and short-term or long-term illnesses. Together, the circadian and homeostatic processes determine how much sleep we need, and when we need it.
Some external factors cause more interruptions and interference than others, such as being a shift worker and restricting and changing your natural sleep pattern, or finishing work late and starting again early in the morning, causing you to have fewer sleeping hours than your body needs on weeknights. As a result of increased sleep pressure, the human body needs to sleep longer to make up for lost sleep, enabling it to recover. You probably would have heard it called, ‘catching up on sleep’. Age also plays a role in deciphering how much sleep you need. Elderly people tend to sleep less than young and middle-aged adults. This is believed to be caused by changes in the interaction between the circadian and homeostatic processes.
Work, health, exercise, labor and mental activity all affect the amount of sleep we need each night, so, while seven or eight hours is generally a good minimum idea of sleep needs, don’t be surprised if you actually need more.
Insomnia Or Other Factors?
The first thing you need to decide if you are struggling to sleep is whether you have insomnia or stress related sleep deprivation or deficiency, or whether your habits and daily activities are causing your inability to get to sleep. If you think it is stress related, then there are ways of dealing with anxiety, like consuming certain herbs and foods, practicing anxiety relieving yoga and seeking professional help. However, it could be something very simple that is causing the problem, like a lack of routine.
Many healthy adults who are not stressed out to any great degree find it hard to sleep if they keep changing their sleep routine by going to bed and getting up at different times throughout the week. This can be particularly difficult for people who study, work from home, or sleep in on weekends. If you are not naturally a morning person, you may be familiar with that feeling of struggling to force yourself out of bed, especially if there’s nothing particularly pressing that you have to get to. If you have experienced that, then you may also have experienced that restless feeling of lying in bed for hours and hours unable to sleep, then when you finally do get to sleep at all hours of the early morning, you start the whole cycle again – unable to get up when the alarm clock beeps.
By being actively aware of your sleep cycle and setting a time to go to bed and a time to get up every day, including weekends and days off, this problem can be resolved. Consistency reinforces your body’s natural sleep-wake cycle, which ensures better sleep at night. It can be difficult to start this, because it will involve forcing yourself up for a couple of mornings until you are used to it, but once you are, it will become completely natural to you. If a lack of routine is all that’s causing your sleepless nights, then it really is an easy fix.
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