Sleep is a vital part of a healthy lifestyle. It is one of the most important aspects of all because it affects almost every area of our body! Yet, it is often overlooked or taken for granted by many, even though it directly impacts both physical and mental health and the way we function in daily life.
When we get enough sleep, our minds are able to function better. Sleep deprivation, on the other hand, exhausts our brain so much that it can no longer function properly. Just one night of sleep deprivation can dramatically affect one’s mood and cognitive function the next day. Cognitive abilities include attention, memory, learning, creativity, planning, orientation and imagination. A healthy night’s sleep helps rejuvenate and restore our body so it can fight off disease and infirmity. It helps us stay awake throughout the day and improves our brain power, reduces stress, and improves cognitive function. Good sleep also helps regulate our hormones, which are responsible for controlling our appetite, metabolism and our emotional well-being. During sleep, the body produces hormones like melatonin and serotonin that help us feel rested and energized. An imbalance in hormones can lead to mood swings, irritability and anxiety.
On the contrary, if we don’t get enough quality sleep on a regular basis, we feel tired and unfocused. Like exercise and a balanced diet, sleep may help prevent a range of health issues from obesity, heart disease, diabetes, depression to stroke and dementia.
Research suggests that adults need seven to nine hours of sleep every night in order to function at their best. There are certain times of day that are better for sleeping. Most of us find it easier to fall asleep in the evening or early morning hours. However, getting enough sleep is important, but good sleep quality is also essential. Many people wake up tired, even with adequate amounts of sleep. This is likely due to insufficient amounts of deep sleep. When we sleep, our body goes through four stages of sleep with each stage a progressively deeper sleep. While all stages are essential to overall well-being, deep sleep is considered the most important one. In this stage, a person’s body repairs itself, regrows tissues, strengthens the immune system, and builds bone and muscle. A person needs this stage of sleep to wake up feeling refreshed.
Unfortunately, many people don’t get enough sleep due to their busy lifestyles. Common causes of chronic insomnia include: concerns about work, school, health, finances or family. Stressful life events or trauma, such as divorce, a job loss, the death or illness of a loved one, also may lead to insomnia. These problems can keep our mind active at night, making it difficult to sleep.
Another very common cause of sleepless nights is advancing age. Many people find that as they get older, they find it harder to fall asleep. They wake up more often at night and earlier in the morning. A nap is a useful stopgap for those who have trouble getting enough sleep, but napping does not provide the same restorative power as a full night’s rest. So, what is the optimal length of time for a nap? They can be short, anywhere from 15 to 30 minutes or longer,as both can be beneficial. However, remember that napping after 3 p.m. can interfere with nighttime sleep.
With a few lifestyle changes, we can get the restful sleep our body needs to function optimally and stay awake and energized throughout the day. Here are a few things we can do to improve our sleep quality.
- Make sure that your bedroom is comfortable and conducive to restful sleep. Keep the room dark and quiet, and make sure the temperature is comfortable.
- Create a consistent sleep schedule and stick to it. Try to go to sleep and wake up at the same time every day even on weekends and holidays. This will help your body adjust to a regular sleep pattern and make it easier for you to fall asleep.
- Avoid caffeine and/or alcohol late in the day, and big meals close to bedtime.
- Before bed, do something relaxing like reading a book or taking a warm bath.
- Limit your exposure to screens and blue light two hours before bedtime. The blue light emitted from your phone, computer, and television can suppress melatonin, a hormone that helps you get to sleep. Set a cutoff time for screens and use blue light-blocking glasses if you must use a device late at night.
- Exercise during the day and try to get some natural light exposure to help regulate your circadian rhythm but avoid strenuous exercise close to bedtime.
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