Healthy Sleep

Good Sleep Is Essential

Quantity and quality of sleep have a huge impact on overall health. This article will look at health consequences related to inadequate sleep and provide some tips on how to improve it.

What is sleep?

Sleep is a state of reversible unconsciousness and reduced responsiveness to external stimulation. When we are asleep, the brain is more attentive to what is happening within itself and the rest of the body than to what is going on outside the body.

There are different kinds and stages of sleep. The stages are broadly categorized as REM (rapid eye movement) sleep and NREM (non-rapid eye movement) sleep or deep sleep. During an 8 hour period of sleep, there will be 4 to 5 cycles of REM sleep, each lasting from about 10 – 60 minutes. REM sleep is associated with dreaming, changes in muscle tension and in brain wave patterns indicated on an EEG. There are several theories about the significance of REM sleep for brain function. It is thought to be the period when consolidation of memories, stimulation for brain development, and rebalancing of neurotransmitters (brain chemicals) occur. NREM sleep is the stage in which brain activity and bodily functions slow down. It is thought to be the time when the brain and body as a whole are repairing themselves.

How much sleep is enough?

The need for sleep is highly individual and varies according to age and stage of life. Infants need as much as 16 hours of sleep per day. A healthy elderly person may need as little as 5 hours of sleep per day. Healthy adults generally need between 5 and 9 hours of sleep; most people feel best when they get about 7 – 8 hours.

Is it possible to sleep too much?
Any change in sleep patterns should be discussed with your health practitioner. A sustained change in the direction of sleeping more can be an indication of excessive stress, depression or neurological or hormonal problems and should be investigated.

What happens with too little sleep?
Occasional, stress-related disruptions in sleep are common and tend to resolve on their own. Sometimes sleeping less is a normal part of aging but it can also be an indicator of excessive stress, mood disorders such as depression or anxiety, or neurological/hormonal problems.

Because our bodies repair and rebalance during sleep, inadequate sleep can be a contributing or complicating factor in many health conditions such as depression; impaired judgment, problem solving and memory; diabetes; epilepsy; fibromyalgia; heart disease; infertility; obesity and other illnesses.

A sustained change in the direction of sleeping less than usual (often termed “insomnia”) may be diagnosed and treated as a primary condition but is more often “secondary”; in other words, insomnia can frequently be a symptom of something else. For this reason, any ongoing change in the duration or quality of your sleep should be explored with your health practitioner.

Sleep Hygiene

“Sleep hygiene” is a term used by health professionals to refer to a collection of practices that promote healthy sleep. It includes these ideas:

Establish A Sleep-Promoting Environment

  • Reserve the bedroom for sleeping.
  • Remove the clock from view, and avoid using a loud alarm clock.
  • Do not read, work, or watch TV in the bedroom or engage in these activities within 30 minutes of going to sleep – they’re just too stimulating.
  • Keep the bedroom as dark and quiet as possible. Wear an eye mask to block out light.
  • Maintain a constant temperature, slightly cooler than a comfortable daytime temperature.
  • Wear socks to bed if your feet tend to be cool – cold feet are a common cause of intermittent wakefulness.
  • Keep a pen and paper at your bedside – if you’re worrying about things before sleep or awaken with a sudden thought, write them down.

Dietary Factors

  • Avoid caffeine and other stimulants.
  • Avoid alcohol and other depressants.
  • Avoid foods you may be sensitive to.
  • Avoid large meals within 2 hours of bedtime.
  • Avoid drinking large volumes of fluid within 2 hours of bedtime.
  • Have a light, easily digested snack 30 minutes before bedtime.

Activity Factors

  • Keep a consistent bedtime.
  • Get up at a consistent time every day.
  • Exercise regularly but avoid heavy exercise in the evening.
  • Stop work at least one hour before going to bed.
  • Establish a bedtime routine.
  • Take a hot bath, shower or sauna before going to bed.

Other Factors

  • If you are menopausal or perimenopausal, get checked by your healthcare provider.
  • Have your adrenal and thyroid glands checked by your healthcare provider.

An adequate amount of good quality sleep can make all the difference in your health and quality of life.  Get in touch if you’d like to learn more about how to improve the quality of your sleep.