By Anja Springthorpe

Sleep is a vital necessity for our body.  Essentially, sleep allows the brain to recover and re-energizes muscles for the day ahead.  While it is not completely understood how sleep is regulated, many findings highlight how important a good night’s sleep is for our well-being. 

The effects of sleep on cognitive capability and function is well-established.  Without adequate sleep, simple tasks can appear difficult, and the ability to process or retain information  diminishes significantly. 

Sleep acts as a reset button for the brain; it creates new nerve connections, reorganizes memories and dumps out the waste that clogs the mind.  Indeed, how well we sleep is reflected in our mood, another indicator of just how important sleep is for mental health.

In recent years, research found that a chronic lack of adequate sleep has detrimental health consequences, even shortening overall life-span.  Conditions such as heart disease, diabetes, hypertension or depression are more likely in individuals experiencing sleep problems. 

Without adequate sleep, our tissues, organs and hormones don’t have time to rehabilitate, which increases the risk of imbalances.  Another novel finding is that improper sleep increases the risk of obesity.  When we are tired, we tend to favor foods high in fat and sugar over healthier, more nutritious options. 

How much sleep do we need?  Sleep requirements depend on a number of factors such as age and activity levels.  However, experts agree that most adults require between 7-9 hours of sleep per night.  Children and teenagers need even more sleep to recuperate. 

Another important factor in a good night’s sleep is a steady bedtime routine.  Sleep is controlled by a sophisticated hormonal response to fading light.  Going to bed at the same time each night has been shown to improve quality of sleep significantly.

“Sleep hygiene” is a phrase that has been coined to describe a pattern of practices or habits which increase sleep duration and quality of sleep. 

Did you know the body needs to cool down before drifting off to sleep?  So reduce the A/C to 67 or 68 degrees, turn on the ceiling fan or even just stick your feet out of the covers.  The cooler environment will help you to fall asleep and stay asleep.

Some tips to improve your sleep and hence your well-being:

  1. Avoid caffeine, alcohol or nicotine close to bedtime.  These substances act as stimulants that can disrupt healthy sleep cycles.
  2. Avoid blue light from screens (phones, laptops, TV’s etc.) before going to bed.  The blue light emitted by screens disrupts hormonal sleep regulation because your body believes it is still daytime.
  3. Regular exercise has been shown to improve sleep.  As little as 20 minutes of aerobic exercise such as walking, swimming or cycling can significantly help getting a good night’s rest.

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