AUG 11, 2020

Sleep Hygiene: Why it Matters & 6 Tips for a Better Night’s Sleep

By Health  Plus

“A good laugh and a long sleep are the best cures in the doctor’s book.”
- Irish proverb

No truer words were ever spoken. Getting a good night’s sleep is possibly the single most important thing you can do for your health. Remarkably, a person can survive days, even weeks without food or water. Sleep deprivation, however, is far more damaging; negative effects begin to manifest in as little as 17-24 hours. According to the Center for Disease Control, “being awake for at least 24 hours is equal to having a blood alcohol content of 0.10%. This is higher than the legal limit (0.08% BAC) in all states.”

Why is sleep so important for our health?

According to the National Health Institute, sleep affects almost every type of tissue and biological system in the body – from the brain, heart, and lungs to metabolism, immune function, mood, and disease resistance. There is not a major system of the body or any function of the brain that is not improved by sleep, or conversely, negatively impacted when you do not get enough. 

In addition to our physical and mental wellbeing, sleep studies have concluded that sleep increases our daily productivity, concentration, and creativity.

What happens when we sleep?

Sleep provides our body with a chance to repair and recover through two basic types of sleep: Light or REM (Rapid Eye Movement) Sleep and Deep or NREM (Non-Rapid Eye Movement) Sleep. During a night of sleep, a person will cycle through stages of REM and NREM sleep several times.

The average person typically has between 3-5 periods of REM sleep per night, with each cycle lasting between 5 minutes to over an hour. The brain is most active during the REM stage. As the name suggests, REM sleep is characterized by rapid eye movement, increased breath rate and a temporary paralysis of our limbs as we dream. While there is little research on the significance of dreaming, it is thought to be the brain’s way of processing and storing information from the day’s experiences.

Deep or NREM sleep has 3 stages with the first stage occurring right after you fall asleep. During NREM sleep breathing and heart rate are slow and regular, and blood pressure is low. While not uncommon, NREM sleep is usually dreamless as the body focuses on the repair and growth of tissue, building bones and muscles, and strengthening the immune system. It is believed that both REM and NREM are required for memory consolidation, a process that converts short-term memories into long term ones.

What if we don’t get enough sleep?

Serious short and long term problems can occur if you experience frequent interference of your normal wake-sleep rhythm, or suffer from chronic sleep disruption. Short-term issues of sleep deficiency include challenges in learning and concentration, problem solving, decision-making, recall or memory, and dealing with emotions. People most affected by sleep deficiencies include:

  • Shift workers
  • Teens
  • Business travellers (jet lag)
  • First responders

The long term effects of chronic sleep deprivation can be very dangerous to your health. It can increase the risk of cardiovascular disease, diabetes, depression and obesity, and suppress the immune system.

How many hours of sleep do we need?

The need for sleep varies as we age. And while there is no absolute number of sleep hours that will work for everybody of the same age, the general recommendation for adults between the ages of 18 and 60 is 7-9 hours of sleep per night.

How to ensure good sleeping habits

  • Set a schedule – go to bed and wake up at the same time each day.
  • Exercise 20 to 30 minutes a day, ideally several hours before going to bed.
  • Avoid caffeine and nicotine late in the day, and alcoholic drinks before bed
  • Wind down a few hours before bed by dimming the lights and turning screens off. Reading and/or a warm bath are also very claming.
  • Make your bedroom a room for sleep – warm lighting, no bright lights from charging electronics, cool to comfortable temperatures, etc. It is best NOT to have a television or computer in your bedroom.
  • Avoid lying in bed awake. If you can’t get to sleep do something else until you feel tired. Reading, meditation and listening to music are great options.
  • See a doctor if you have persistent problems sleeping, or if you feel unusually tired during the day. Most sleep disorders can be treated effectively.

Developing and maintaining good sleep hygiene has a profound impact in your health. You will think more clearly, recover faster and perform and feel better throughout the day. It’s the most accessible and inexpensive insurance policy you will ever have. Night night!

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