Sleep that idyllic state of slumber, the land of nod, call it what you may, but the fact is that there are few things that can compare to the blissful feeling of being asleep. Sleep is what will rejuvenate you; it gives you the power recharge to face life head-on.
Sleeping well is a prerequisite for emotional well-being and physical health; it is a state of being alert, energized and with general clarity of mind. There are many who are running around a pillar to post getting things done, they are able to think on their feet and act before the thought is complete and all this because they, most likely, are getting a good night’s sleep.
If you or a family member or are experiencing sleep problems, be aware that there are solutions for sleep disorders as well as best practices for a good nights sleep.
The reason we sleep is not completely understood
Sleep is a state where when the eyes are closed; the muscles are relaxed, and consciousness is temporarily suspended. Sleep is an involuntary action that occurs when the mind and body are in need of beginning the process’ of rejuvenation and repair by stopping all exertion. The brain tunes out and the process of relaxing the body and mind into a state of slumber begins. So why is sleep so important? Let’s first look at a few benefits of sleep, and then we move to how to make sure you get a good night’s sleep consistently.
The scientific definition of sleep is a state when the eyes close and the muscles relax, there is a lot more going on than just suspended consciousness and closed eyes. The reason we sleep is not completely understood, our breathing slows down; the heart rate settles into a steady rhythm, the muscles relax and the mind calms down.
The ongoing process where the natural processes to repair tissue, muscle, and bones increase during sleep. Our body takes a beating during waking hours, and lack of sleep will take its toll on the mind and body.
Sleep Helps Growth
It is especially true of babies and children up to the age of 16. Baby’s need a lot of sleep, as their bodies are developing rapidly into growing children and the biological systems for a mature adult needs to fully developed in the ensuing years.
Sleep Helps Concentration
Our brain is like a super computer, but biological and far more complex, given the kind of multitasking our brain does, is it any surprise it needs rest also? Sleep gives the brain the necessary “time out.” It helps the neurons repair and re-organize the complicated circuits so that when you wake up you are ready to tackle The day “head on” with you in command.
Your concentration powers improve, and jobs get done faster and probably better! Sleep Helps Lower Stress. Stress is often part of modern life for a myriad of reasons, a well-rested body and brain means you are in a better position to manage stressful situations. When one is sleep deprived, one is much more susceptible to the effects of stress.
Sleep Helps Keep you Healthy
- A few of the health benefits that quality sleep brings.
- Makes you feel alive.
- Curbs inflammation.
- Increases productivity.
- Improves athletic performance.
- More efficient study times for students.
- Children are less hyperactive, inattentive, and impulsive.
- Curbs hunger.
- Reduces stress levels.
- Improves ones driving ability.
- Reduces anxiety and or impatience.
Life can throw whatever surprise your way, good or bad, good health and quality sleep, one help one find the courage and fortitude to cope with the problems that life often brings.
As we age, one sleeps less deeply even though the amount of sleep does not diminish. During sleep, one’s body rests and recoups its energy levels in readiness for the following day. The sleep cycle is controlled by the brain and consists of two main periods, (REM) which is a state of rapid eye movement and where dreams usually occur, and (NREM) non-rapid eye movement. The body cycles between non-REM and REM sleep beginning with a period of non-REM and then a very short period of REM sleep.
NREM sleep consists of 4 stages where each stage typically lasts about 5 to 15 minutes. It is during NREM sleep that the body begins the repair process; it regenerates tissues, builds muscle and bone, and strengthens the immune system.
REM sleep usually happens around 90 minutes after falling asleep. The first REM cycle lasts about 10 minutes with each subsequent stage becoming longer, culminating with the last period of lasting up to one hour. REM sleep is the time of intense dreaming due to heightened brain activity.
How Much Sleep Do You Need?
How Much Sleep Do You Need?
Just how much sleep is needed very much depends on the individual and various factors where age being the main one. Adults need 7-9 hours, teenagers about 9 hours and infants about 16-18 hours of sleep per day. If an individual has been deprived of sleep than that person may need more sleep.
The consequences of sleep deprivation may cause:
- Impaired memory and confused thinking.
- A decreased immune response.
Sleep apnea is a common sleep disorder where one pauses breathing anything from minutes to just a few seconds, or breathe shallow breaths. These events occur 30 times or more each hour often followed by normal breathing beginning with a choking sound or snort.
The condition disrupts ones sleep due to the constant action of sleeping in and out of light to deep sleep, resulting in one feeling very tired the following day. Sleep apnea is one of the most common causes of sleepiness during the day.
Sleep Apnea Treatment
Sleep apnea is very difficult to diagnose, and many people are unaware that they have the condition. If untreated sleep apnea may put one at risk of the following:
An increased risk of Obesity, stroke, heart attack and high blood pressure.
Treatment should begin with seeking advice from one’s doctor; it is a condition that requires long-term management which may need mouthpieces, breathing devices, lifestyle changes and even surgery.
Insomnia is a condition that is characterised by a person who has difficulty falling or staying asleep.
People with this condition usually exhibit the following symptoms:
- Difficulty falling asleep.
- Waking up and having great difficulty getting back to sleep.
- Waking up before time in the morning.
- Feeling exhausted or tired upon waking.
There are two classifications for insomnia, primary and secondary.
Primary insomnia: a condition where no other associated problem or health condition is linked to the insomnia.
Secondary insomnia: a condition where the insomnia is linked to some other health condition such as depression, asthma, alcohol, cancer, arthritis or medications.
Chronic Insomnia vs. Acute.
The duration in how long the insomnia lasts can be short or long-term. It might last for various periods of time. A person may suffer insomnia anywhere from a single night to multiple nights over a period lasting a month or more.
Reasons for Insomnia
Acute insomnia: can be caused by any stressful life event such as the death of a family member or loved one, divorce, any physical discomfort such as excessive light, noise, extreme temperatures such as uncomfortably hot or cold, any physical discomfort of any kind, certain medications, jet lag, any change in sleep times ( Shift work).
Chronic Insomnia: can be caused by anxiety and or depression, chronic stress, any source of discomfort or pain.
Symptoms of Insomnia
- Tiredness during the day.
- Poor concentration or memory problems.
Diagnosing insomnia should start with a qualified medical practitioner. Diagnosis might begin with reviewing ones medical history, a physical exam and sleep history. One may be asked to give a record of sleep patterns along with notes about how one felt on any given day. One might be referred to a speciality sleep centre for special tests and a valuation.
Treatments for Insomnia
Sleeping pills might be prescribed for a short time to ease the symptoms of insomnia during treatment issues. Mild insomnia can often be treated by practicing good sleep habits (outlined below). Treatment for chronic insomnia starts by ensuring any conditions that are the cause for the condition are dealt with first. If the insomnia continues then the health care practitioner may recommend relaxation techniques and or behavioural therapy’s as required.
Melatonin is a hormone that occurs naturally, and it helps regulate the sleep and awake cycle, it is controlled the amount of light one is exposed to.
Normally the brain delivers more melatonin during the evenings as it gets dark, which makes one feel sleepy, and less during the bright daylight hours. This natural cycle can become disrupted during life in the modern world that reduces the body’s natural production of melatonin and hence one’s sleep cycle.
TV stimulates the mind and makes it very difficult to fall sleep.
Office environments that are away from natural light can result in a disrupted sleep cycle resulting in difficulty sleeping. The bright lights from TV and computer monitors can suppress one’s body from producing the correct amount of melatonin that makes it harder to become tired and fall asleep. One can compensate for the lack of melatonin by using natural methods which will boost the body’s production of melatonin and keep ones sleep/awake cycle in check.
Increase the amount of light you are exposed to during the day. Avoid sunglasses in the morning to let natural light onto your face. Try to spend some time in the natural light of the day when possible. Use natural light sources (via a window) when practical)
Have your work desk near natural light as much as possible. Avoid TV and computer screens at night (common methods for people to relax in the evenings, but unwittingly also a common way to suppress ones melatonin production. TV stimulates the mind and makes it very difficult to fall sleep.
Do not use ant backlit electronic devices such as an iPad or Kindle for reading. When it’s time to sleep, make the room as dark as possible, turn the lighting for electronic digital clocks as much as possible. Use low-wattage lights (or a torch) for night lights to go to the toilet.
Most people occasionally snore, but it becomes frequent then sleep quality suffers and the quality of sleep for not only one’s self, but those the sleep of others that sleep near you also suffers. Excessive snoring results in daytime fatigue, irritability and an increased chance of other health issues. If ones snoring disrupts one’s partners sleep, then the risk of major relationship issues are also a risk factor.
Reasons for Snoring
Snoring is caused by an excessive amount of nasal tissues that are prone to vibrate, the positioning of one’s tongue may also be a contributing factor by reducing one’s ability to breathe smoothly.
Snoring is the process of when one cannot breathe freely via ones mouth and nose when asleep due to poor posture, or abnormalities of the soft tissues in your throat which narrows the airway on one’s throat. The snoring sound comes from the airways being restricted, in other words, the mouth and nose are physically obstructed.
People who are overweight are prone to snoring as are people that smoke, drink alcohol. Age is also a factor due to the throat becomes narrower.
Common Causes for Snoring
- Sinus and nasal problems.
- Fatty tissue and poor muscle tone.
- Some medications.
Sleeping on one’s back can cause flesh in one’s throat to relax which blocks the airway, snoring in all positions indicates a severe condition and may need more complex treatment.
How to Stop Snoring
First of all consult your medical practitioner, Sleep positions are very relative to snoring, snoring with a closed mouth may be due to a tongue problem, open mouth snoring may be related to the tissues in one’s throat
- Lose weight if overweight.
- Stop smoking.
- Exercise more.
- If taking medications regularly, speak to your doctor to find out if the medications might be contributory.
- Clear nasal passages, use a natural solution with a Neti pot or use nasal strips or a nasal decongestant to help clear the airways.
- A humidifier will aid by keeping the air moist, membranes in the nose and throat may be irritated by dry air.
- Bad posture for the head and neck might cause the tongue and jaw to move forward, special pillows that are specially designed to help prevent snoring by ensuring the neck muscles are not crimped.
- Sleep on your side instead of your back; this will help avoid gravity dropping the tongue and soft tissues to obstruct the airway.
- An old trick is to sew a tennis ball or something similar into the back of a pyjama top. This will in time train you to stay on your side.
- If all else fails, ask your doctor to refer you to an otolaryngologists (an ear, nose, and throat doctor).
Like everything else, sleep also has some dos and dont’s that make all the difference for a good night’s sleep. Sleep hygiene refers to good sleep habits, all you need is to follow a few tips and stick with them;
Try not to sleep on a full stomach, a quiet digestive system is much more conducive to good sleep.
Drink some water just before you go to bed, If possible, shower about an hour and a half after your last meal of the day. The fragrance of your shower gel/soap/body wash is very relaxing. It helps the body and mind unwind from the stress and strain of the day’s work.
Adjust the temperature in your room to a comfortable setting. A temperature that is too cold or too hot is not conducive to good sleep. As soon as one gets into bed, gently stretch your arms and legs, flex your feet and feel the strain slip out.
1. Always try to keep up the same bedtime and wake-up times when possible.
2. Avoid naps as much as possible.
3. Avoid alcohol, nicotine, and caffeine late in the day as these often contain stimulants that will interfere with the ability to fall asleep.
4. Avoid using the bed for anything apart from sex, or sleep.
5. Avoid any heavy meals late in the day, some foods and or snacks my help relax one and help one fall asleep.
6. Exercise regularly, but not too close to bedtime as exercise might stimulate you and interfere with falling asleep. (A general guideline is no exercise 3 to 4 hours before going to sleep.
7. Ensure one’s bedroom is as comfortable as possible; a good quality bed is important to good sleep. Be sure the room is as dark and quiet as practically possible.
8. Try a sleeping mask to help keep the light out of the eyes.
9. If the room is unavoidably noisy, try ear plugs.
10. A routine before bedtime may be useful, start with a relaxing bath, listen to a little soothing music, read or listen to an audio book.
11. If your mind is active with a myriad of things that you need to do, write them down and commit your mind to forgetting about them until the next day.
12. If falling asleep is difficult, do not constantly look at the clock, get up and occupy yourself with something relaxing such as reading until you begin to feel sleepy.
Getting a good night’s sleep is not rocket science. But it is very essential as the body needs to repair and refresh everything north of your toenails and south of your hair. Give sleep a fair chance and let it work its magic. Take each day knowing that you are working with a full power recharge.
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