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How important is a healthy sleeping pattern?

Updated on August 11, 2015

Since the first in depth studies into the benefits of sleep began in the 1950's, sleep has become more than just the dormant period of our day. In fact, sleep is essential to both our mental and physical well being. But studies done by the U.S based National Sleep Foundation (NSF) show that over one third of adults are not getting enough of it. In addition, the majority of these adults report suffering from levels of fatigue severe enough to interfere with their daily duties. Considering that driving and operating heavy machinery are included in a lot of these cases, this has the potential to be very dangerous.

Adults generally need anywhere from 8-10 hours of sleep at night. Although every one is different. Some can work well with as little as 6 hours, where as others need 9 or 10 hours. Sleep comes with 5 stages;

1- Light sleep, where you drift in and out and can be disturbed easily.

2- Eye movement ceases and brain waves run slower.

3- Brain operates on extremely slow "Delta" waves and short rapid bursts of rapid waves

4- Brain operates on Delta waves only

5- Stage 5 is known as R.E.M sleep. Here, our breathing becomes irregular, our eyes move rapidly and our limbs are paralyzed to stop us from acting out our dreams.

You can usually tell by a persons appearance when they have not had enough sleep. The almost wear the words "Tired" and Exhausted". And if their appearance manages to fool you, their mood certainly wont. I cant speak for everyone obviously, but I certainly wouldn't want to hang out with me when I am low on sleep. So yes, sleep is great. And without getting too technical, here are some reasons why you should be trying to get a little more of it.

Sleep and the mind

According to the DSM-IV (The diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders), Lack of sleep and insomnia are factors in a number of severe mental health disorders such as Major and Minor Depression, Anxiety and Bi-Polar Disorder. Sleep promotes healthy brain function through rest, repair and the release of chemicals and hormones. When you dont get enough sleep, you will find your movements and coordination become slow and sluggish. Your interpretation of situations and decision making also suffer. Your reactions and alertness become delayed. This can not only be extremely annoying, especially when you have a busy day ahead, but it also makes you more clumsy and prone to accidents.

Though you may seem dormant, your brain is actually surprisingly busy during sleep. Though a process called "consolidation" Your brain processes everything you have done over the course of the day, thus helping you to learn and commit these things to memory¹. This is important if you are studying for exams or trying to get the hang of a new job. A lack of sleep not only impairs this process, but also makes it difficult to focus when it is time to learn and take in the information in the first place.

Sleep is also a wonderful tool in helping to manage mental and personality issues such as anxiety.Stress in both the mind and body are contributors to anxiety. Sleep relaxes the muscles, and joints that accumulate stress and can help you feel rejuvenated after adequate rest. The mind also endures wear and tear during daily activities.

During sleep, the brain repairs neurons that deal with emotion, thought and general maintenance. There are also important hormonal changes that occur. Keeping a healthy balance of hormones, such as Dopamine and Norepinephrine (Cognition, movement, emotions) is very influential towards how your mood operates.²

A mouse study performed at the University of Rochester Medical Center in New York, by Dr. Maiken Nedergaard and her colleagues found that during sleep, cerebral spinal fluid is pumped throughout the brain and flushes out the toxins that accumulate in the brain throughout the day, almost like a filtration system. A copy of the article on the National Institutes of Health website will be posted below.


Sleep and the body

Sleep not only repairs the mind, but also the body. Your tissue and cells go through a much needed recovery process during this period of rest which is great for your skin, muscles, joints and tendons. It is well known that adequate sleep is linked to a longer and healthier life, and it is with good reason too. Sleep has proven to have a positive effect on cardiovascular health, blood pressure and inflammation. As if these were not already enough benefits, sleep has also shown to aid in boosting metabolism and weight loss.

If you read any weight loss guides, you are sure to see that getting plenty of rest is always featured somewhere on the list. You might wonder how an extended period of inactivity can actually help you to lose weight, but it is true. When I began going to the gym and working on my fitness, I discovered first hand how important sleep is. Not only in recovering from a tough workout, but in muscle development and shedding that unwanted fat. One of these reasons is to do with a hormone called Cortisol. Cortisol is a hormone that is important for regulating blood pressure. However when our body becomes stressed, an excess of this hormone is produced. This results in a halting of protein synthesis, Increase of abdominal fat and a low output of testosterone.³

When you find yourself unwell, for example battling a cold or flu, you are bound to have someone tell you to drink your fluids and get plenty of rest. It might sound like the standard go to line, but there is a lot of sense in it. When you are sleeping, your body produces antibodies, cytokines and infection fighting white blood cells. Deprivation of sleep depletes your immune system defenses and leaves you more vulnerable to infection as well as delaying recovery time.4

Finding the time for rest.

Sometimes our busy schedules do not allow for us to get appropriate rest. Work, worry and other responsibilities may keep us up late or give us short nights of broken sleep, but there are other alternatives to reduce the damages of sleep deprivation. Any cat owners will notice that no matter how many distractions there are, their cat will always find time to have a quick nap. Naps have a variety of short term benefits that can help you get through a busy day. Even 20-40 minutes can;

  • Increase alertness. in fact, just as little as 20 minutes can provide the same benefits as 200mg of caffeine.5
  • Improve health by lowering stress
  • Improve cognitive function
  • Lift your mood and boost willpower

in japan, Inemuri, napping at work is actually looked upon quite positively. Workers who nap at work are seen to be hard working, so much so, that they need rest. This is a practice that should be encouraged widely in my opinion. There are far too many adults sacrificing sleep and their health as a result for their jobs.

Sleep is one of the most basic pleasures and its benefits are often underestimated. For those who struggle to get a good nights sleep, there are a number of remedies and relaxation techniques that can aid you in getting some much needed shut eye. I will attach some information which I hope you will find helpful. Thank you for taking the time to go through this short piece, I hope you found it somewhat informative.



List of References

1 http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3278619/

2 http://www.livestrong.com/article/17497-dopamine-norepinephrine/

3 http://www.bodybuilding.com/fun/sleep-unsung-hero-fat-loss.htm

4 http://www.sleepdex.org/immune.htm

5 http://www.artofmanliness.com/2011/02/07/unleash-the-power-of-the-nap/

© 2015 Sean Gorman

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    • profile image

      Kim Gallagher 

      3 years ago

      As someone who has struggled with insomnia I can completely agree with this. It literally drains the life from you. You end up like something from the walking dead at times

    • Sean Gorman profile imageAUTHOR

      Sean Gorman 

      3 years ago from Ireland

      I struggle with the exact same thing Denise. Even with something that I wouldn't usually worry about. I blow it way out of proportion. And even create new scenarios to worry about. I could just be a tad crazy either.

      Thank you for reading and for your supportive comments. They are greatly appreciated.

    • denise.w.anderson profile image

      Denise W Anderson 

      3 years ago from Bismarck, North Dakota

      At my age, sleep has become more of a necessity than a simple pleasure! Without it, I have major issues with a number of body functions. At the same time, worry, stress, and anxiety often threaten to rob me of a good nights sleep. When I wake up in the middle of the night and my mind catches onto a worry thought, it wreaks havoc with my ability to fall back asleep. Thanks for the information and great tips!

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