Quality Living Styles

Sleep for Good Health

Sleep - The Often Overlooked Resource

We often overlook the obvious. You maybe familiar with the expression, “ it was right under your nose. ” Well, I felt that way when I recently learned about how much we can improve our health just by more sleep. Essential for improving the quality of our lives, sleep is a vital, often overlooked resource, yet free & within easy reach of the comfort of our beds.

For many, cutting back on sleep is one way to cope with work, school, family or household responsibilities. Contary to previous beliefs that sleep allowed the brain and the body to just rest, recent studies indicate that the body is working hard to ensure our good health during sleep. If we cut down on the number of hours of sleep, we lose out on essential benefits to good health & quality living.

These are a few interesting resources where you can learn more about the benefits of sleep. The first is from The National Institutes of Health, Your Guide to Healthy Sleep. The second is an article titled, “The More You Sleep The Longer You Live ” published in the San Francisco Chronicle Magazine, September, 2nd, 2007, by Dr. Keith Humphreys, a professor in Psychiatry at Stanford University.

How much of sleep do we need?

 picture of baby

While this child sleeps blissfully, his body is working to promote healthy development.

Sleep needs vary from person to person. There are some individuals who function well on 3-4 hours of sleep a day. On average:

  • adults needs between 6-8 hours sleep a night
  • newborns may sleep between 16 and 18 hours
  • children in preschool sleep between 10 and 12 hours a day
  • School-aged children and teens need at least 9 hours of sleep a night.

According to Dr. Keith Humphreys “sleep is the most undervalued contributor to optimum health and performance.” Sleep is vital for our general health and development and may increase your life span by a few years.

In a study of over 7,000 residents over a nine year period in Alameda County in California, it was found that people who routinely slept 6 or fewer hours per night had about 70% higher risk of dying than did people of similar age that slept 7 or eight hours a night.

Stages of Sleep

Sleep was thought to be just a down time, a section of time that we are not awake. However sleep studies done over the past several decades show that the brain stays active throughout sleep. For a detailed description of the 5 stages of sleep please click on this link, How Sleep Works.

Very briefly, Stages 3-5 are the deep stages of sleep during which:

  • the body repairs itself, including rebuilding sore biceps & helps build muscle mass. Dr Humphreys states that a good sleep will not only make workouts more productive but will also boost the immune system in general.
  • The stage of deep sleep is vital as it triggers more release of growth hormones which fuels growth in children and adults.
  • Hormones released during sleep also affect how the body uses energy. Studies find that not getting enough sleep or getting poor quality sleep regularly, increases the risk of having high blood pressure, heart disease, and other medical conditions.
  • If sleep hours are reduced it is more likely that people will be overweight or obese, develop diabetes, & prefer eating foods that are high in calories & carbohydrates.
  • A type of hormone that increases during sleep, works to fight various infections. This might explain why a good night’s sleep helps keep you from getting sick—and helps you recover when you do get sick.
  • Chemicals important to the immune system are secreted during sleep. You can become more prone to disease if you don't get enough sleep, and childrens' growth may be stunted by sleep deprivation.

Sleep and your functioning

The quantity as well as the quality of sleep is important. Premature endings of sleep & constant interruptions deprives one of certain stages of sleep and the health benefits associated with those stages are lost. Sleep affects us in the following areas.

  • Mood: Insufficient sleep can make one irritable and is linked to poor behavior and trouble with relationships, especially among children and teens. This is true for babies as well. People who chronically lack sleep are also more likely to become depressed.
  • Performance: When we are rested we think clearly, react quickly, and create memories.The pathways in the brain that help us learn and remember are very active when we sleep. Studies show that people who are taught mentally challenging tasks do better after a good night’s sleep. Other research suggests that sleep is needed for creative problem solving.
  • Focus: For some, cutting back by even 1 hour of sleep can make it tough to focus the next day and can slow response time. Studies also find that when you lack sleep, you are more likely to make bad decisions and take more risks. This can result in lower performance on the job or in school & a greater risk for a car crash.
  • Being Alert: Not getting enough sleep can be dangerous. You are more likely to be in a car crash if you drive when you are drowsy. “ Most people are aware of the hazards of drunk driving, but driving while drowsy can be just as deadly! Like alcohol, lack of sleep makes it harder to react quickly enough to a car that stops suddenly, a sharp curve in the road, and other potentially dangerous situations.”

Diet and Sleep

Did you know that the number of hours of sleep may be tied to our ability to stick to a diet? Read on:

Hormones that regulate appetite are Ghrelin and Leptin. Ghrelin is produced in the stomach and signals the brain when it is time to eat. Leptin which is produced by adipose tissue or fat has the opposite effect, signaling the brain that you are full.

Chronic lack of sleep increases Ghrelin and decreases Leptin so that you feel hungry even when you do not need to eat. This is what leads us to eat more even after we have eaten the required calories.

Things to Consider

Feeling and functioning well the next day depends on how much of each stage of sleep you get and the number of hours of sleep. So please consider how you can make your day a better one by making sure you sleep enough. Please use the Contact page & write in with your views, comments & questions about sleep. I will follow up with articles on steps that you can take to have a better night's sleep.

If you have any questions or would like to comment on sleep please email me, Nirmala, at pather@qualitylivingstyles.com

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