In this guest post by Dr. Michael Breus (the Sleep Doctor) we cover one of the most important parts of living well; sleep. As you'll learn, sleep is absolutely critical and so often overlooked as you try other remedies for basic ailments. Take a few minutes now and learn why sleep is so critical to your health!
It can be tempting to think of sleep as optional, an element of life that can be done without when things are hectic, and made up for later. The truth couldn’t be more different. Sleep is essential to life and health—both in the short term and over the long term. It’s at the core of our evolutionary history.
What happens when we forgo sleep? How does poor and insufficient sleep interfere with our well being, our daily performance, even our relationships? To answer this question, it is helpful to understand how sleep works, and the function it plays in our daily lives.
Sleep may seem like a time of nothingness and inactivity, a blank space in contrast to your waking life. In fact, sleep is an incredibly productive time for the body and mind. Over the course of a night’s sleep, the body works to restore itself at a cellular level, and the brain does important work to process memories, emotions, and learned information. This is why it’s so important to get a full night of high-quality rest on a regular basis. If you shortchange your sleep, you risk missing out on some of sleep’s most important restorative functions.
What does your sleep look like? Sleep unfolds in a series of recurring cycles throughout the night. When one sleep cycle ends, another begins. Each sleep cycle lasts approximately 90-110 minutes. In a typical 8-hour night of sleep, most people will complete 4-5 sleep cycles.
Within each cycle, you spend time in four different stages of sleep: Stages 1-3, and REM sleep. Each stage is both distinct and important:
• Stage 1 is the lightest stage of sleep, a time when the line between sleep and wakefulness can be blurry. Stage 1 is typically the first sleep phase of the night, but you move in and out of Stage 1 sleep throughout the night, in each sleep cycle.
• In Stage 2 sleep, brain waves slow, and the body relaxes more deeply. This is still a relatively light stage of sleep, from which you can easily be awakened. Over the course of a night, you spend about 50 percent of your time in Stage 2 sleep.
• Stage 3 is what’s known as deep sleep, or slow-wave sleep. During deep sleep, the body engages in important restorative processes. Human growth hormone is released during deep sleep, to facilitate repair and rejuvenation of cells in the body’s tissues and organ systems. Deep sleep is also critical to maintaining healthy immune function.
• REM sleep is very different from the other sleep stages. During REM, the brain becomes highly active—similar to waking levels. Most dreaming occurs during REM sleep. During REM sleep, the brain engages in a great deal of processing—of memories, emotions, and recently acquired knowledge. REM sleep appears to be a time when the brain refreshes itself in preparation for the next waking day.
During the early part of the night, you spend more time in deep sleep and relatively little time in REM. As the night progresses, REM sleep increases and deep sleep diminishes. Without a full night of rest, you simply can’t accrue the full benefits of each sleep stage—especially these most restorative stages. And it doesn’t take long to feel the effects of poor quality and insufficient sleep.
Daytime tiredness and fatigue, irritability and strain on relationships, difficulty with concentration and focus—these are some of the most common consequences of sleep loss. Poor sleep makes us more likely to gain weight, puts us at greater risk for accident, and over the longer term elevates our risk for serious and chronic disease.
If you want to rest up like a pro, here are some simple strategies that can help you improve your sleep amid all the excitement of a well lived life.
Commit to a sleep schedule. Consistency is the foundation of a healthy sleep routine. That means going to bed and waking at the same time every day. Set up a sleep schedule that will enable you ample sleep —7 to 8 hours a night is recommended—and stick with it.
Moderate your consumption. Eating and drinking heavily close to bedtime can interfere with high-quality rest. If you’re consuming alcohol, do so in moderation and not within 3 hours of your bedtime.
Be physically active. Exercise is great for sleep—and can help reduce the stress that so many people contend with during busy times. Try to be active every day. First thing in the morning or the late afternoon are the most sleep-friendly times for exercise.
Now that you know the basics, give yourself (and your family) the gift of rest, and sleep well.
Michael J. Breus, PhD
The Sleep Doctor™
Too much reading...
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