24 December 2007

The Importance of Sleep:

Everyone knows that sleep is important to our health, it’s self-evident. When people don’t get sleep they get tired, lose concentration, become irritable and eventually collapse in a heap. Yet it seems that sleep is becoming something we are getting less and less of, especially in developed countries.

Think about it, we spend nearly a third of our lives asleep, clearly there is some need for it. The average adult requires around 7 to 9 hours of sleep a day. Of course it can vary a little bit given individual needs, but generally it is within these parameters. Even a slight loss of sleep can negatively affect ones health. Studies done at the University of Pennyslvania found that those who slept for only six hours were later diagnosed with increases of certain chemicals in the blood associated with both heart disease and diabetes. Newer research has also shown that those of us who sleep less are more likely to gain weight. A lack of sleep changes our hormonal chemistry and it is now known that two important hormones relating to hunger and weight control are greatly controlled by sleep. These hormones are called Gherlin and Leptin. Another important aspect of sleep is that it is when the majority of human growth hormone (HGH) is released. People who don’t sleep enough typically don’t get the same release of HGH.

Sleep is primarily of importance as it allows these hormonal changes to occur and also allows our mind to store and categorised memories. Essentially we store what we have learned when we are asleep. Not getting enough sleep is therefore detrimental to ones mental ability to store information and later to recall it. While we don’t know everything there is to know about sleep it is obvious that its important to our general wellbeing. Be sensible and make sure to regularly get good amounts of sleep as well as considering exercise as a means to help you obtain a better quality of sleep. Personally I would advise against sleep medication unless you are particularly stressed or unable to sleep as it is medication toying in a rather unexplored field.

Like most things in life doing what comes naturally yields the best results. Go to bed when you feel tired and get up when you feel like you’re waking up (of course I understand that work and other commitments makes this all but impossible in the modern day world). Try and establish a rough time at which you awaken naturally each day, its also great for your ability to get into a routine. When you do sleep do so in a room which is as dark as possible and as quiet as possible. It has also been shown that using your bedroom solely for the purpose of sleeping will help with your ability to fall asleep, as the mind adapts to understand that the bedroom is a place for sleep and thus you fall asleep better. But again, this is almost impossible to do unless you happen to have a big house with extra rooms to spare.

Try not to stress too much just around bed time and stay away from physically exerting activities or activities just prior to going to bed. This includes things like watching horror movies! Give yourself half an hour before you go to bed just to relax and have “quiet time”, read a book or do some meditating, something like that which relaxes the mind. This may all sound like rather a lot to do if you live as most people do, but don’t be intimidated, simply change your habits gradually so that over time you will have adopted and become familiar with a healthier sleeping pattern. For your efforts you will be both physically and psychologically rewarded as your body will function better and in turn you may well find that your mood will improve and become more positive. However remember that these changes should not be instantaneous but rather gradual, doing things gradually almost always implies that they are therefore viewed as less challenging and therefore more likely to be accomplished. Anyway, why are you still reading? You should be in bed! :)

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