Word on Health

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Word On Sleep

"I’ll feel better after a good night's sleep." So many of us say this countless times yet, due to our increasingly demanding lifestyles, most of us rarely achieve regular sleeping patterns and often feel tired and irritable throughout the day. Our thanks to the Sleep Council for the support information below.

Sleep is defined as a regular period in every 24 hours when we are both unconscious and unaware of our surroundings. There are two main types of sleep:

Rapid eye movement (REM) sleep. It comes and goes throughout the night, and makes up about one-fifth of our sleep time. During REM sleep, our brain is very active, our muscles are very relaxed, our eyes move quickly from side to side and we dream.

Non-REM sleep. The brain is quiet, but the body may move around. Hormones are released into the bloodstream and our body repairs itself after the wear and tear of the day.  There are 4 stages of non-REM sleep:

  1. The muscles relax, the heart beats slower and body temperature falls - "pre-sleep"
  2. Light sleep - we can still be woken easily without feeling confused
  3. "Slow-wave" sleep - our blood pressure falls, we may talk in our sleep or sleepwalk
  4. Deep "slow wave" sleep - we become very hard to wake. If we are woken, we feel confused

We move between REM and non-REM sleep about five times throughout the night, dreaming more as we get toward the morning.

During a normal night, we will also have short periods of waking. These last 1 or 2 minutes and happen every 2 hours or so. We aren't usually aware of them. We are more likely to remember them if we feel anxious or there is something else going on - noises outside, our partner snoring etc.

So how much sleep do we need? The amount of sleep we require every day depends on our age:  On average, babies sleep for about 17 hours each day.  Older children only need 9 or 10 hours a night. Most adults need around 7-8 hours sleep each night. Older people need the same amount of sleep, but will often only have one period of deep sleep during the night, usually in the first 3 or 4 hours, after which they wake more easily. We also tend to dream less as we get older.  There are also differences between people of the same age. Most of us need 7-8 hours a night, but some (a few) people can get by with only 3 hours a night.

What happens when we don’t get enough sleep? The occasional night without sleep will make you feel tired the next day, but it won't harm your physical or mental health.

However, after several sleepless nights, you will start to find that: You are tired all the time. You drop off during the day. You have difficulty concentrating. You find it hard to make decisions. You begin to feel depressed.

Lack of sleep can also be very dangerous if you are driving or operating heavy machinery. Other problems can arise from lack of sleep and make us more vulnerable to conditions such as diabetes, high blood pressure and obesity.

How to get a good nights sleep. To achieve a good night’s sleep, there are some simple measures that you can take to help:

  • Set a specific time for getting up and going to sleep each day and try to stick to these times, seven days a week, even if you feel you haven’t had enough sleep. This will gradually train your body to sleep at night.
  • Only go to bed when tired
  • Try not to take a nap during the day
  • Use thick blinds, curtains or wear an eye mask to shut out any light in the bedroom
  • Use earplugs if noise is a problem
  • Don’t eat a large meal especially spicy foods before bedtime, if you’re hungry try a light snack with foods that contain natural sleep-promoting amino acids such as turkey, banana and fish
  • Exercise daily at least 4 hours before you go to bed
  • Make sure your bed is comfortable and you have the right mattress and pillows
  • Create a bedtime routine such as a warm bath or a warm milky drink every night, this will help induce sleepiness

Stress and sleep. A common cause of insomnia and restless sleep is stress. Instead of worrying about things while you’re in bed trying to get to sleep, try writing a list of your concerns and any ideas you have to solve them then forget about them until the morning. It may be that you have an exam the next day you need to study for or a presentation at work you need to prepare for, but try not to do it in bed. Keep your work and rest separated in different rooms and this way you can create a ‘sleep sanctuary’, which will encourage you to relax and lead to a restful and revitalising sleep.

And remember...If it takes you longer than 20 or 30 minutes to get to sleep, don’t lie in bed becoming anxious about it. Instead get up and go to another room for a short period of time and read or watch television and then try again.

Lack of sleep and obesity. Studies show that sleep deprivation may be linked to obesity by compromising the body’s sensitivity to insulin (a hormone that affects metabolism, muscle tone, storage and release of fat), increasing ghrelin (a growth hormone that affects appetite and energy level) and decreasing leptin (a protein hormone regulating appetite and metabolism). Researchers found that people between the ages of 32-49 years old, who slept less than seven hours a night, had a higher BMI (body mass index) and were more likely to be obese than those who had a regular seven or eight hours of sleep a night. Also, sleep deprivation can lead to depression which in turn can cause overeating.

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All material on this website is provided for your information only and may not be construed as medical advice or instruction. No action or inaction should be taken based solely on the contents of this information; instead, readers should consult appropriate health professionals on any matter relating to their health and well-being.