We tend to take sleep for granted. If there is some work to be done, we usually squeeze in the extra hours at the expense of our sleep. We then hope to catch up with our sleep in the next few days. In most cases this is fine until we have built up too big a sleep deficit. Then our sleep shortage catches up and we see its effect on our health and mental wellbeing. Here are some facts about sleep that may surprise you:
1. You can live longer without food than sleep.
In experiments on rats, sleep deprivation for between 2 to 5 weeks led to death. Scientists do not expect this period to be much different for humans. On the other hands you can survive without food for many months longer. When it comes to our health we obsess on food, but sleep may be equally if not more important.
2. You need more sleep than you think.
A study done by Harvard Medical School of 82,000 nurses showed an increased risk of death among those who slept less than 6 hours a night. If you are sleeping 6 hours or less then you need to make sure that you get at least 7 hours of sleep. If you find it hard to keep your eyes open during the day and periodically nod off, then you need more sleep. Most of us think we get adequate sleep but unless you are sleeping 8-10 hours per day you may be getting less than you need.
3. Sleep depends on the light you get during the day.
When we sense light our body suppresses production of a hormone called Melatonin. This hormone plays a significant role in our sleep cycle. As the light signal gets weaker the production of hormone Melatonin picks up and we get drowsier. It is important that we get enough exposure to light during the day so that our internal biological clock is properly regulated. It is also important that we start dimming the lights in our home in evening so that the production of Melatonin starts. We also want to ensure that at night all light, including night-light, is shut off so that it does not confuse our internal biological clock.
4. Sleep happens in cycles.
The sleep we get at night is highly structured. It cycles through different phases. One phase of the sleep cycle is known as “deep sleep”. Another phase of sleep is called as the “REM Phase”. This is the phase when we dream. Both REM sleep and Deep sleep are extremely important for our health. It may take a couple of cycles before we get deep sleep. This is where the body is deeply rested and healing takes place. Depleted hormones are replenished and toxic hormones are eliminated. Once we get adequate deep sleep then the REM sleep phase duration increases. This is when information collected the previous day is processed in our brain. This phase if vital for our brain health and emotional well being.
5. Normal room temperature may be too high for deep sleep.
As we get into deep sleep our body temperature falls. We need to ensure that we set the thermostat to allow the room temperature to fall correspondingly for a healthy deep sleep.
6. Stress disrupts sleep.
High level of stress disrupts our internal hormones and has a strong impact on our sleep. It makes falling asleep more difficult and it also has an impact on the quality of sleep. To cut down stress levels stop watching TV shows and movies that have too much action or tense drama. Cut down on audio-visual stimuli a few hours before sleep time. This means lowering down loud music or shutting it down completely. Practicing gentle yoga and pranayama that lengthens your breath in the late evening before meals is a great idea. Twenty minutes of meditation can also help relieve the accumulated stress of the day. In addition, cut down stimulants like coffee, tea, alcohol (and sadly even chocolates) if you have sleep issues.
7. Lack of sleep is reflected in higher body weight.
This is good news! To lose weight all you do is to get adequate sleep! Can it be any easier? Multiple studies have found that there is a strong correlation between high body weight and lack of proper sleep. If you are concerned about your weight then before you start dieting, first fix the issues relating to sleep and ensure that you get high quality 8-10 hours of sleep.
Sleep is the best investment you can make. An additional hour of sleep can make all the difference for the following day. Not only does sleep have a direct impact on our emotional wellbeing and decision-making, it also has a strong impact on the quality of our life and longevity. So whatever you do, do not skimp on sleep!
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