While most of us experience a few sleepless nights from time to time, chronic sleep loss can be a major problem, contributing to a number of health problems, such as heart disease, stroke, obesity, diabetes, and depression.
Interestingly, Robert Stickgold, a Harvard psychiatrist and sleep researcher, referred to this state as "sleep bulimia," where we become sleep deprived and make up for the loss in one large block, such as during weekends.
The 2005 National Sleep Foundation survey revealed that compared with 1998, more Americans are sleeping less than 6 hours each night with sleep difficulties affecting 75% at least a few nights each week.
The Harvard Women's Health Watch suggest 6 reasons for getting enough sleep:
1) Learning and memory
Sleep helps the brain commit new information to memory through a process called memory consolidation. In studies, people who'd slept after learning a task did better on tests later.
2) Metabolism and weight
Chronic sleep deprivation may cause weight gain by affecting the way our bodies process and store carbohydrates and by altering levels of hormones that affect our appetite.
Sleep debt contributes to a greater tendency to fall asleep during the daytime. These lapses may cause falls and mistakes such as medical errors, air traffic mishaps, and road accidents.
Sleep loss may result in irritability, impatience, inability to concentrate, and moodiness. Too little sleep can also leave you too tired to do the things you like to do.
5) Cardiovascular health
Serious sleep disorders have been linked to hypertension, increased stress hormone levels, and irregular heartbeat.
Sleep deprivation alters immune function, including the activity of the body's killer cells. Keeping up with sleep may also help fight cancer.
Therefore, it's pretty clear that getting adequate sleep isn't something to be taken lightly. Thankfully though, if you have difficultly establishing a sleep routine, there are a number of steps you can take.
10 tips for getting the best from your sleep:
Create a regular schedule. Go to bed and get up at the same time every day, including weekends.
- Get optimum sleep every night: an average of 8 hours is recommended.
- Aim for sleep in one continuous block, if possible. This way your body receives better mental recovery, as it is reaches a deeper sleep cycle.
- Create a sleep friendly environment with a comfortable bed, pillows, suitable lighting, and temperature and one that is free from interruptions.
- Avoid napping during the day.
- Relax and unwind before going to bed. Develop a sleep routine, such as taking a bath, listening to music, or reading a novel.
- If you're having difficulty sleeping, get out of bed and go into another room, try doing something relaxing until you feel sleepy.
- Create healthy eating habits - consume smaller meals, drink plenty of water, avoid caffeine, and caffeinated drinks, and avoid spicy foods. Also, try to finish eating 2-3 hours prior to going to bed.
- Exercise regularly - Generally speaking taking regular exercise makes it easier to fall asleep, and contributes to sounder sleep. Remember to complete your workout at least 3 hours before bedtime.
- If you're still having trouble sleeping, seek help and advice from your doctor.
It can be easy to think that getting adequate sleep is completely unrelated to heart health or other medical conditions; however, it's absolutely clear that good quality sleep is vital to the bodies proper functioning, and should be something you truly value.