Options Issue 26, 2008
If one of your New Year’s resolutions is to improve your health and wellbeing, be sure to incorporate adequate sleep into your plans. Quality sleep is as equally important as diet and exercise, in maintaining good health.
The Benefits of Sleep
Sleep is important for saving daytime energy, laying down of memory, restoration of mental function, as well as growth and cellular regeneration. Heart rate, breathing, blood pressure and body temperature decrease during sleep, giving time for our bodies to recover from physical and mental stress.
Quality sleep should make you feel invigorated and alert, while the opposite is often true if you have had a restless sleep, especially if you experience poor sleep on a regular basis. People who sleep well regularly are likely to have lower blood pressure, a healthier heart and blood vessels, compared to people who are regularly sleep deprived.
Recent studies indicate that getting a good night’s sleep on a regular basis can help with weight management. Sleep helps regulate the metabolism, blood glucose levels and appetite. With sleep deprivation, not only does metabolism slow down, but hunger also increases.
Furthermore, there is a strong link between regular sleep deprivation and diabetes type 2. Poor food choices are a likely result, due to reduced insulin sensitivity. In one Chicago based study, people in the sleep deprived group craved high-calorie sweets, and after six days of only four hours of sleep their metabolisms resembled those of diabetics.
Lack of quality sleep may also result in headaches, inability to concentrate, constant tiredness, fatigue, irritability, moodiness, anxiety, depression, aching muscles and a lowered immune system.
Research has shown that quality sleep improves the appearance of your skin, eyes and hair. While sleeping skin is not under stress thus allowing cell regeneration and repair. Eyes have time to recuperate from stresses such as wind, sun, artificial light and computer screens. Quality sleep also improves dark circles under the eyes caused by fatigue. Sleep also helps keep the hair shiny, while continuous lack of sleep reduces nutrients fed to the roots, eventually resulting in dull hair.
What is Enough Sleep?
There is not agreement on the optimum hours of sleep, although the consensus is somewhere between six and nine hours per night, depending on the individual. Feeling tired or sleepy throughout the day on a regular basis may indicate that you need more sleep.
Quality of sleep is probably more important than the number of hours you sleep. If you wake up refreshed and invigorated each morning and maintain this state throughout the day, you are meeting your body’s sleeping requirements.
However the body can appear to cope with sleep deprivation and the more serious side effects may not become obvious for many years. So while you believe that you can successfully exist on minimal sleep , it may ultimately catch up with you.
Improving Sleep Quality
If you are not getting quality sleep, the first step is to discuss it with you doctor so that the underlying cause may be treated. Disorders such as sleep apnoea are serious and may go undetected for years. Any underlying psychological stresses causing insomnia need addressing to overcome the resulting sleep deprivation. Medications may also interfere with sleep, so adjustments under medical supervision may be necessary.
Sleeping medications, while possibly giving good short term results, are not a long term solution, especially alone. Issues surrounding sleep deprivation need diagnosing and addressing. In addition, tolerance from long term use of sleeping medication means increased doses may be required to maintain effectiveness.
Instead of prescription medication, you may prefer using alternatives such as herbal remedies or essential oils. Herbs such as valerian, kava, passionflower and chamomile may be an effective part of a sleep management plan.
Essential oils like lavender, marjoram, geranium, mandarin and cardamom are useful for their sedative effects. There are a number of self help techniques available but always discuss these techniques with your doctor to avoid conflict with other treatments and recommendations.
It is important to remain calm about not getting enough quality sleep. While this may sound like strange advice to someone sleep deprived, becoming overly anxious usually compounds the problem.
Aim to go to bed at the same time each night and wake at the same time each morning even on weekends if possible. Ten to ten thirty is the best time for getting a deep sleep. Staying up too late results in a shallower and less rejuvenating sleep. Have at least thirty minutes wind down time before bed, especially after study or work. Avoid alcohol, caffeine and smoking before going to bed. Alcohol consumption contributes to lighter sleep with periods of waking, while caffeine and smoking makes falling asleep more difficult.
No matter which techniques you implement in your aim to achieve quality sleep, remember to seek help to discover and address the issues surrounding your sleep deprivation issues.