Most of us donâ€™t realize the importance of sleep until we are unable to perform daily tasks because we are too exhausted. We tend to take sleep for granted by not getting the proper amount of restful sleep we need every night due to late night social functions and improper bedtime habits.
Since we live in a fast-paced, high-tech world we have artificial lights and 24-hour businesses that are accessible at all hours of the day or night and encourage us to stay up late. When we lack sleep we begin to feel irritable, unable to focus and our immune system lowers making us susceptible to colds and infections. Not getting a goodnightâ€™s sleep increases the amount of stress in our life which impacts our performance in our personal life and career.
[box type=”note”]Todayâ€™s society is putting less and less importance on the need for good quality sleep and the consequences are leading to increased accidents operating vehicles and machinery, reduced productivity in the workplace and increased health conditions.[/box]
While We Sleep
While we are asleep, our body goes through a cycle of several levels of sleep. Each level of sleep has a purpose and is vital for recharging, rejuvenating and detoxifying our body. Some of the major role our body performs while sleeping is repairing and creating new cells that have been damaged or depleted from rigorous physical activities, toxins and stress.
As we sleep, we also produce hormones that are released at specific times during our sleep cycle. One important hormone that is released during the sleep cycle is called melatonin a powerful antioxidant located in the brain is used to prevent cancer and other health conditions. In addition, melatonin plays a significant role in regulating our internal rhythm called circadian rhythm which affects our bodyâ€™s natural 24-hour cycle.
While we are sleeping complete darkness is needed to send a signal to the brain to increase melatonin secretion which causes drowsiness and naturally puts us to sleep. Any interruptions during sleep such as exposure to light from TV or alarm clock can interfere with melatonin levels and interfere with the bodyâ€™s natural sleep pattern which can make it challenging to get to sleep or stay asleep.
Types of sleeping disorders
Those suffering from sleep disorders have poor memory and focus and can be a hazard to themselves and others.
- Insomnia– is the most common sleep disorder. The inability to get the amount of sleep needed to feel rested in the mornings. This is usually caused by stress, depression and anxiety. Other contributing factors are medication, caffeine and diet.
- Restless Leg syndrome is a condition where inactivity causes the tingling or crawling sensations in the legs. Walking around usually relieves the problem.
- Sleep Apnea â€“ is a sleep disorder that consists of both abnormal missed periods of breathing or low breathing.
- Narcolepsy– is uncontrollable day time sleepiness. It is caused by a dysfunction of the brain mechanism that controls sleeping and waking.
What Affects Our Sleep?
The quality of sleep you obtain is more important than quantity. Getting five hours of uninterrupted sleep is much more beneficial than eight hours of interrupted sleep. Having a goodnightâ€™s sleep is directly related to how we feel and perform during the day.
The following are some common sleep disturbances that can affect sleep:
- No routineÂ – Not having a bedtime routine or schedule can make it difficult for the body to develop a habit of going to sleep at the same time every night. Sticking to your bed time routine even on weekends can benefit those with sleep disorders. Training your body to sleep at the same time every night makes it easier for your body to recognize when to fall asleep.
- StimulantsÂ – Intake of caffeine,Â nicotine, and other drugs can inhibit a personâ€™s ability to get a quality full nightâ€™s sleep. Green tea, coffee, chocolate, power drinks and soda all can contain caffeine. Caffeine and chocolate even in small amounts can disrupt sleep levels. Aim to have your last cup of coffee no later than 6pm or 4 hours before bed.
- ElectronicsÂ – Refrain from watching any action or riveting television shows or movies right before bed as it can again be too stimulating for the mind and make it harder to fall asleep. iPods and other music devices should also be turned off while sleeping.
- Stress â€“ Dealing with stress poorly makes you feel exhausted. Reduce stress by taking some time out to relax. If you mind is racing before bed a good idea is to have a pad of paper on your nightstand to write down all your worries or your to- do list for the next day so your mind can be clear and focused to sleep.
- Poor diet- Eating a proper diet has many positive effects on your body including the way we sleep. Avoid eating junk foods, spicy foods and heavy meals close to bedtime as these can cause insomnia-producing heartburn.Avoid drinking alcohol even though it seems like it can get you to sleep it actually disrupts the balance of sleep cycle, so you don’t sleep as well and don’t feel as rested in the morning when you wake up.
- Lack of exerciseÂ â€“ Being under active and bored during the day can make it hard for you to fall asleep in the evenings. Those who are mentally and physically active during the day are exhausted by night and have no problems going to sleep. Exercise also helps reduce stress.
- Health condition – Occasionally tiredness and lack of energy can be a sign of an underlying health condition. Some common health conditions that can cause you to be tired during the day are:
- Iron deficiency is called anemia when oxygen cannot make its wall into blood cells effectively. It’s one of the most frequent medical causes of tiredness.
- Underactive thyroid,or hypothyroidism, is a condition where the thyroid gland does not makeÂ sufficient amounts of hormones needed for regulating metabolism which can cause exhaustion.
- Chronic fatigue syndrome – is characterized by severe tiredness, which goes on for many months, even years. The condition does not get better with bed rest and interferes with normalÂ day-to-day activities.
- Jet lag – Traveling across different time zones and can interfere with the bodyâ€™s perception of time and sleep/wake cycle.
- Shift work – Some jobs require overnight shifts or rotating shifts such as policeman, doctors, nurses. These hours of sleep can cause unnatural sleep patterns and are then more likely to develop sleep disorder.
Good Sleep Habits
As you now have learned sleep plays an important role in preparing the brain and body for an alert and productive tomorrow.
Having a bedtime routine is just as important and effective as having your day time routine. Going to bed at the same time every night and slowly getting your mind and body ready for bed is essential for restful sleep.
Everyoneâ€™s sleep requirement varies and is important to find out how many hours of sleep works for you. A good way to know if you are getting the right amount and quality of sleep is if you find it difficult to wake up in the morning than chances are you’re not sleeping well throughout the night. Keeping a sleep log for a few weeks can help you get a more accurate idea of how many hours work for you.
Diet plays affects the quality of sleep; have your last meal about 2-3 hours before bed and stay away from fried and heavy meals. If youâ€™re hungry close to bed time, choose a night-time snack that is high in complex carbohydrates along with a small amount of tryptophan containing protein to help relax your brain. Good sources are oatmeal, peanut butter, sesame seeds, turkey, legumes and soy. These foods can help aid in proper restful sleep. Also, watch your water consumption. Too much liquid before bed can lead to midnight trips to the bathroom.
Exercising at least 3 x a week for 30 min or more can help with stress and provide a better nights rest. Exercise not only uses energy it creates energy so exercising close to your bedtime should be avoided as it may be too stimulating.
Following a good night’s sleep, you feel more alert, energetic, happier, and better able to tackle any tasks during the day.
Create the Perfect Sleep Environment:
- Your bedroom should be a place for sleep, relaxation and intimacy only.
- ColoursÂ can be stimulating make sure to choose colors that are soothing and relaxing like blue or green.
- Be comfortable, wear loose clothing and consider purchasing a new mattress and pillow.
- Â Sleep in complete darkness and install dark curtains or use an eye mask if necessary.
- Try to sleep by 10pm and wake by 6am these are the hours that are ideal for melatonin secretion.
- Take a hot bath right before bed. A hot bath will calm you and itâ€™s a perfect time to relieve some stress. Try adding essential oils like lavender or chamomile to promote relaxation.
- Limit EMF exposure. All electronics including TV, iPod, laptops and cellular phones should be removed from the bedroom with the exception of an alarm clock which should be turned away so the LED light doesnâ€™t interrupt your sleep.
- Keep lights off when using the bathroom at night. Instead have a night-light in place to prevent stopping the production of melatonin.
There are a many types of treatment for sleeping disorders such as over the counter medication, and alternative treatments such as herbal medicine, acupuncture or physical therapies make sure you choose the right one for you.
Always consult your doctor before taking any supplements and herbs. Commonly used herbs that promote well-being, that are naturally relaxing and calming are valerian root, passion-flower, chamomile, lemon balm and kava kava. Supplements that may help promote a restful sleep are magnesium, GABA, and melatonin.
[box type=”important”]For any treatment to be affective it should also be combined with regular exercise, appropriate lifestyle and diet changes. Itâ€™s important to always consult you doctor if having difficulty sleeping as it may be due to an underlying health condition.[/box]