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Get Some Z's

Updated: Apr 29, 2019

Sufficient rest & sleep are as important to good health as good nutrition and adequate exercise.

Why is sleep important?

Obtaining sufficient quality sleep at the right times can help protect your mental health, physical health, quality of life, and safety. During sleep, your body is supporting healthy brain function and maintaining your physical health. In children and teens, sleep also helps support growth and development. Ongoing sleep deficiency can increase your risk of developing some chronic health problems, it can also affect how well you think, react, work, learn, and get along with others.

Ongoing sleep deficiency can increase your risk of developing some chronic health problems….

Brain function

Sleep helps your brain function effectively. While you're sleeping, your brain is forming new pathways to aid you in learning and remembering information. Sleep also helps you pay attention, make decisions and be creative. Sleep deficiency can alter activity in some parts of your brain; you may experience difficulty solving problems, controlling your emotions and behaviour, and coping with change. Sleep deficiency is also associated with depression, suicide, and risk-taking behaviour. Children and teens with sleep deficiency may have problems with social interactions; they may feel angry and impulsive, have mood swings, feel sad or depressed, or lack motivation.

Sleep helps your brain function effectively.

Physical Health

Major restorative functions in the body such as tissue repair, muscle growth, and protein synthesis occur almost exclusively during sleep. Ongoing sleep deficiency is linked to an increased risk of heart disease, kidney disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, obesity and stroke.

Major restorative functions in the body occur almost exclusively during sleep.

Your immune system needs sleep to remain effective at defending your body against harmful substances. If you're sleep deficient, you may have problems fighting infections like the common cold. Insulin regulates your blood sugar levels, sleep affects how your body reacts to this hormone. Sleep deficiency causes a higher than normal blood sugar level, which may increase your risk of developing diabetes. Sleep helps sustain an optimal balance of the hormone ghrelin, which makes you feel hungry and leptin, which gives the feeling of satiety. With sleep deficiency, ghrelin levels go up and leptin levels decrease, this makes you feel hungrier than when you're well-rested. Growth hormone is produced during sleep which is essential for growth and development in children and teens. Growth hormone also boosts muscle mass and helps repair cells and tissues. Sleep also impacts puberty and fertility.

Daily Performance

Getting enough quality sleep at the right times aids in your effective functioning throughout the day. People who are sleep deficient take longer to finish tasks, have a slower reaction time, and make more mistakes.

Sleep cycles

Sleep has five stages: 1, 2, 3, 4, and REM (rapid eye movement) sleep. You spend almost 50% of your total sleep time in stage 2 sleep, about 20% in REM sleep, and the remaining 30% in the other stages. During stage 1 (light sleep) you drift in and out of sleep and can be awakened easily. Your eyes move very slowly and muscle activity slows. If you’re awakened from stage 1 you may experience sudden muscle contractions and sensations of falling. When you enter stage 2 sleep, eye movements stop and brain waves slow. In stage 3, extremely slow brain waves (delta waves) start to appear, combined with smaller, faster waves. By stage 4, the brain only produces delta waves. It is difficult to wake someone during stages 3 and 4 (deep sleep). There is no eye movement or muscle activity. If you’re awakened during deep sleep, you may not adjust straight away and often feel groggy and disoriented for several minutes after waking.

If you’re awakened during deep sleep, you may feel groggy and disoriented....

During REM sleep, your breathing becomes more rapid, irregular, and shallow, your eyes move about rapidly, and your limb muscles experience temporary paralysis. Your heart rate increases and blood pressure rises. If you awaken during REM sleep, you may describe bizarre and illogical tales (dreams). The first REM sleep period usually occurs about 70 to 90 minutes after you fall asleep. On average, a complete sleep cycle takes 90 to 110 minutes. The first sleep cycles have relatively short REM periods and long periods of deep sleep. As the night progresses, REM sleep periods increase while deep sleep decreases. By morning, you spend nearly all your sleep time in stages 1, 2, and REM.

Sleep hygiene

Sleep hygiene is a variety of different practices and habits that are conducive to having good sleep quality.

Here are some practises that you could try for better sleep:

  1. Go to bed at a set time each night and get up at the same time each morning. Sleeping in on weekends also makes it harder to wake up early on Monday morning because it re-sets your sleep cycles for a later awakening.

  2. Vigorous exercise in the late afternoon can be most beneficial for getting a good night’s sleep. Exercise raises your body temperature above normal a few hours before bed, allowing it to start falling just as you're getting ready for bed. This gradual decrease in body temperature helps ease you into sleep. Avoid exercising at least 2 hours before bed, as the increases in your adrenaline levels, heart rate, and body temperature may make it difficult to fall asleep.

  3. Caffeinated drinks and drugs e.g. diet pills and antidepressants stimulate some parts of the brain and can cause an inability to sleep. Smokers often sleep very lightly and have reduced amounts of REM sleep. They also wake up early in the morning due to nicotine withdrawal. Some people who have trouble falling asleep try to solve the problem with alcohol (“night cap”). While alcohol does help people fall into light sleep, it also deprives them of REM and the deeper, more restorative stages of sleep.

  4. A warm bath, reading, or another relaxing routine can make it easier to fall sleep. If possible, wake up with the sun, or use very bright lights in the morning. Sunlight helps the body's internal biological clock reset itself each day.

  5. If you can't get to sleep, don't just lie in bed. Do something else, like reading, or listening to music, until you feel tired. The anxiety of being unable to fall asleep can actually contribute to insomnia.

  6. Maintain a comfortable temperature in the bedroom. People lose some of the ability to regulate their body temperature during REM sleep, so abnormally hot or cold temperatures in the environment can disrupt this stage of sleep. If our REM sleep is disrupted one night, our bodies don't follow the normal sleep cycle progression the next time we doze off. Instead, we often slip directly into REM sleep and go through extended periods of REM until we catch up on this stage of sleep.

  7. Avoid keeping electronics in the bedroom. The blue light emitted by screens on cell phones, computers, tablets, and televisions restrain the production of melatonin, the hormone that controls your sleep/wake cycle.

  8. Ensure your bedroom is dark and quiet. Complete darkness is needed for melatonin production. Bright lights, including the light from a television, can inhibit this process.

  9. Burn lavender essential oils in your bedroom before bedtime. Lavender has been shown to decrease heart rate and blood pressure, potentially putting you in a more relaxed state.

  10. Don’t take your work to bed as you’ll then associate your bed with the stresses of work.

  11. Try not to eat a big meal at least 2 hours before bedtime. Eating a big meal increases the blood flow to your digestive tract, causing your stomach to secrete more gastric acid and making your intestinal muscles work harder. This stimulates your body’s metabolic systems at the very time when you want them to be slowing down.

Exercise, relaxation, temperature, schedule, lavender, bath, darkness, quiet

Foods for better sleep

Pumpkin seeds, walnuts, eggs, fish, chicken and turkey are good sources of tryptophan, a sleep-enhancing amino acid that helps make serotonin and melatonin, the “body clock” hormone that sets your sleep-wake cycles.

Almonds and wholegrains (bulgar, barley) are rich in magnesium, a mineral needed for quality sleep (and also a known headache remedy).

Calcium, found in cheese, yogurt and milk helps the brain use the amino acid, tryptophan, to manufacture the sleep-inducing hormone, melatonin.

Fish such as tuna, halibut, and salmon are high in vitamin B6, which your body needs to make melatonin and serotonin. Other foods high in B6 include raw garlic, bananas, chickpeas and pistachio nuts.

Chamomile tea increases glycine levels in the body; a chemical that relaxes nerves and muscles and acts like a mild sedative.

Pumpkin seeds, walnuts, eggs, fish, chicken, turkey, almonds, wholegrains, cheese, yogurt, milk, raw garlic, bananas, chickpeas, pistachio nuts, chamomile tea

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