Sleep: the golden ticket to good health

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We sleep away one-third of our lives. Sleep is crucial to good health and is considered the third pillar of health, with nutrition and exercise being the other two pillars. A sleeping brain is an active brain, processing complex information, consolidating older memories and creating new memories. A sleeping brain is a healthy brain, facilitating the utmost physical and mental well-being.

Sleep is a fascinating and enigmatic part of life. Not much is known about the human need for sleep, and sleep study itself is a relatively new scientific discipline. Sleep researchers, however, are steadily beginning to untangle the many mysteries of sleep.

Sleep plays a critical role in ensuring positive mental health. This is evidenced by the fact that one bad night can cause irritability and lack of concentration on the next day. Chronic sleep deprivation can also be a factor in long-term mood disorders such as depression and anxiety.

Medical studies have suggested that paucity of deep sleep causes type-2 diabetes by altering the processing of glucose by the body. Sleep deprivation is also associated with heart disease and an increase in blood pressure. Adequate sleep is, therefore, an effective antidote to diabetes, heart diseases and other serious illnesses. It also strengthens the immune system by fending off the common cold and flu, and more serious micro-organisms.

Sleep contributes to emotional well-being by enhancing decision-making skills and nourishing creative impulses. There is also an intimate link between sleep and moods. Healthy sleep can nurture a feeling of well-being, while inadequate sleep may cause irritability and stress.

Sleep disorders can be caused by psychological issues pertaining to anxiety, depression, and stress, as well as painful physiological conditions such as arthritis and chronic low back pain. These issues can manifest as insomnia, sleep apnea, and restless leg syndrome.

Insomnia is a sleep disorder in which a person experiences difficulty in falling asleep and remaining in bed. Insomniacs also have the tendency of waking up often during the night, trouble going back to sleep, and waking up too early in the morning. Insomnia leads to day-time problems such as fatigue, sleepiness, concentration issues and accidents at work. About 50% of adults undergo occasional bouts of insomnia and 1 in 10 suffers from chronic insomnia, according to some estimates.

Sleep apnea is a serious sleep disorder that repeatedly interrupts breathing during sleep. Sleep apnea comes in two forms: obstructive and central. Obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) is caused by a blockage of the airway due to a collapse of the soft tissue in the back of the throat. The symptoms of OSA are snoring, restlessness, and gasping for air. Central sleep apnea (CSA) is a result of the brain’s failure to tell the body to breathe. The symptoms of CSA are disturbed sleep and gasping for air.

Narcolepsy affects the mechanism that controls sleep and wakefulness. People with this sleep disorder experience excessive sleepiness during the day, marked by intermittent and uncontrollable episodes of falling asleep. Narcolepsy usually makes its appearance between the ages of 15 and 25.

Restless legs syndrome (RLS) is a sleep disorder that causes an intense and irresistible urge to move the legs. This is caused by lying down in bed and sitting for prolonged periods at work or while driving. RLS typically occurs in the evening, making it difficult to fall asleep and stay asleep. It is associated with daytime sleepiness, irritability and lack of concentration.

Stimulants such as caffeine tend to keep sleep away and keep it light even when one eventually drifts off. Researchers, therefore, recommend abstinence from these substances at least six hours before going to bed.

People today are accustomed to viewing their laptops and smartphone screens at bedtime. As per estimates, a mere one-in-four 18-to 24-year-old youngsters are able to sleep well due to the effect of smartphones and other gadgets. The screens, rather than the content that is viewed, interferes with the sleep time and quality. The light-emitting devices impact the circadian rhythms i.e. the body’s master clock and suppress the sleep-promoting hormone melatonin. The key to a good sleep is to keep the devices out of the bedroom.

A well-established and consistent sleep routine may not sound particularly exciting, but is a great way to improve the sleep quality. The oft-repeated expression ‘Early to bed and early to rise makes a person healthy, wealthy and wise’ is affirmed by sleep research. The circadian rhythm works in response to light and darkness and disrupting it can have serious repercussions on physical and mental health. Working on shift jobs derails the natural sleep patterns and are best avoided, if possible.

A mattress has a major influence on sleep quality and health. A firm mattress accompanied with a soft pillow gives the spine the right balance of support and cushioning. It goes without saying that an average mattress would take a heavy toll on sleep. A good memory foam mattress in a box would go a long way in making sleep an experience to behold.

To conclude, sleeping for at least six hours each night is absolutely essential for physical health and longevity. Most people need around 8 hours of quality sleep in a night. The amount of sleep may differ from one person to another, depending on health and lifestyle. Every person should study their body well, determining the sleep that they need for optimal performance, and then take the steps to achieve it.

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