For some, napping and sleep are just some of life’s little luxuries, a chance to completely unwind and relax after a busy day. For others, sleep and the process of trying to fall asleep are just topics they’d rather ignore or avoid, especially when dealing with problems such as insomnia or a disturbed sleeping pattern. However, getting a good night’s sleep is incredibly important, not only for how you feel but for your general health and well being. We’ve done a little research into the science of sleep and have discovered just how necessary nodding off is.
As we age, problems such as insomnia (the inability to fall asleep, sometimes caused by health problems, anxiety or medication), sleep apnea (breathing problems), restless leg syndrome, and the frequent need to urinate can all interrupt your sleeping pattern. Alongside these issues, the aging process kick-starts the body’s advanced sleep phase syndrome, which naturally pushes us to feel tired earlier in the evening, but to also wake earlier. Some people resist this natural feeling of sleepiness – or just can’t seem to fall asleep – resulting in tiredness and irritation the following day. The Division of Sleep Medicine at Harvard Medical School have determined that your body manages and requires sleep like it does eating, drinking and breathing, so not getting enough rest is almost the equivalent of skipping meals – not good at all. Adults aged 25+ are advised to aim towards 7-9 hours a night, and without sleep our judgement, mood and ability to retain information are impaired, seriously affecting how we feel on a day-to-day basis. So what are the benefits of a good night’s sleep?
Repair and Protect
Your body doesn’t just shut down as you sleep; in fact, it goes into ‘repair mode’. Extra protein molecules are released into the bloodstream, helping your internal organs to heal themselves, fight infection and improve their condition. Good quality, regular sleep can also help you control your weight and aid weight loss, as sleeping helps regulate hunger hormones, reducing your appetite. If you’re deprived of sleep, your hormone balance becomes interrupted, leading to a craving for sugar-filled, calorific fats and carbohydrates. Alongside this, sleep can help reduce your risk of type 2 diabetes, as resting can help your body process glucose faster.
Sleeping is also great for your heart, as snoozing helps reduce stress levels and inflammation in your body. When stressed, high levels of ‘inflammatory markers’ are released, which have been linked to heart disease and strokes. As you sleep these markers are reduced, slowing your heart rate. It’s also known that blood pressure and cholesterol levels are lowered while you sleep.
Similar to helping your heart, sleep can reduce your stress levels. When agitated or ‘on edge’, stress hormones are released, increasing your heart rate and blood pressure. As you fall asleep, these levels are reduced as your body is encouraged to relax, with you feeling your heart beat gently slow down back to its resting rate. You awake feeling calm and refreshed as your body has almost erased your feelings of stress from the previous day.
A good night’s sleep helps your brain organize and make sense of memories, helping you to process new experiences and knowledge faster and more easily. Think of it as your brain compartmentalizing your thoughts into boxes, ready for use later on.
Sleep, and even naps, can help reduce moodiness, irritation, and the risk of developing more severe disorders such as depression and anxiety. Similar to how stress hormones are lowered as you sleep, resting can help alleviate feelings of anger and sadness, leaving you feeling much better about yourself afterwards. Who doesn’t feel a lot less grumpy after a much-needed nap?!
So what can you do to encourage a better night’s sleep? Doctors and scientists recommend natural relaxation methods such as a warm bath, yoga stretches, relaxation CDs, and reading as great ways to help you feel sleepy. However, if you feel you have a deeper problem, make an appointment with your GP to get help.
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