Why Sleeping is Important?
Sleep plays a major role in good health and a positive mindset and is essential for the individual’s well-being. The National Sleep Foundation states that sleep is vital for the body and mind. Even so, millions of people all over the world do not get enough of it. Lack of sleep is something usual for most of them and it can quickly lead to more severe medical conditions like chronic fatigue or insomnia. Studies conducted by the National Sleep Foundation show the repercussions of sleep deficiency. According to various specialists, in 2004 about 40 million Americans suffered from no less than 70 different sleep disorders. Moreover, 60% of the questioned adults confessed they faced sleeping issues various times a week. Most problems related to sleep deficiency go untreated or are completely ignored as people do not consider them as dangerous as they are. Also, about 40% of the participants experienced daytime sleepiness and low energy levels because they could not get enough sleep during the night.
Adults have affirmed that the tiredness was at times so persistent that it interfered with their daily activities, be they simple or complicated tasks. Many of them have confessed that fatigue was rather common, 20% of them experiencing it several times each month. Sleeping problems are not unique to adults only. Children have been questioned about their sleeping habits and how often they face insomnia-like issues as well. The results were disturbing, with almost 70% of the children experiencing sleeping problems a few times each week.
People acknowledge the value of a good night sleep because they feel refreshed and full of energy the next day. Little sleep on the other hand leads to moodiness and irritability. It can cause damage on a neuronal level as well because during sleep the body enhances the brain functions and supports them. In the absence of this essential element, many of the brain processes that are usually performed without much trouble become harder to solve. Sleep problems affect memory, cognition and the simple act of clear thinking can become a burden. Experts from the Department of Psychiatry at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine have stated that if the individual does not get enough sleep, he may start to feel apathetic, more distant in social interactions and can even experience slowed speech. Leaving aside the damage sleep issues can produce on other organs, the nervous system suffers the most.
Sleep helps the brain function properly. New neuronal pathways from each night so it is vital to rest well in order for the process to take place. Sleep has two main phases, namely the REM or rapid eye movement and NREM or non-rapid eye movement that are equally important. They should not be interrupted during the night but this usually happens due to breathing difficulty or waking up frequently throughout the night. Rapid eye movement sleep represents about 25% of total sleep during the night. In this stage the brain deals with emotions and memories. Dreams can occur as well. REM sleep is of absolute necessity for brain regions responsible for learning. Non-rapid eye movement sleep takes up about 75% of total sleep. This is when the tissue growth and repair happen. In addition, the body releases growth hormones during this stage. A good night sleep is of great value for a child or teenager’s development.
When either REM or NREM is interrupted, the body processes are affected. Low energy levels registered the next day, general tiredness or other complications may appear as a direct consequence.
Research projects show that sleep deficiency severely alters activity in certain brain regions linked to memory or learning process. People who suffer from sleep disorders have a hard time-solving problems and even controlling emotions and behavior. They can experience irritability or drowsiness and may have trouble remembering things, performing simple tasks or making decisions. Teenagers who are sleep-deficient may have issues when interacting with others their age. Many of them suffer from emotional disorders such as anxiety, depression or bipolar disorder. Experts suggest there is a possible connection between sleep issues and suicide. Certain groups that are more exposed to the risks due to sleep deficiency include night work shifters, scientists, doctors, parents, teenagers or truck drivers.
Sleep also affects body weight. According to some studies conducted on patients suffering from sleep problems, researchers have discovered that sleep-deprived individuals register low leptin and high ghrelin levels. Leptin is a chemical compound that sends the brain nervous impulses according to which the stomach is full. Ghrelin on the other hand increases the need to eat. Combining these two chemical constituents may prove to be damaging to the body. In addition, people who sleep less feel more tired and are likely to consume fast food or beverages packed with sugar to compensate for the low energy levels.
Sleep plays an active role in the repair of blood vessels. Naturally, its absence leads to heart and kidney diseases, high blood pressure and even stroke. Sleep influences the way our bodies react to insulin, the hormone that normalizes the blood sugar levels. This means that less sleep increases the risk of diabetes. Pregnant and nursing women or those during their period face sleep disorders due to hormonal shifts. Insomnia represents a critical problem in the life of many people. An individual can develop bad sleeping habits or sleep later in the morning to compensate for the lost sleep during the night. Charles M. Morris, a Professor in the Psychology Department and Director of the Sleep Disorder center at University Laval in Quebec conducted various research studies in regards to the insomnia rate among adults. The psychologist stated that 1 in 10 adults suffer from chronic insomnia which is a huge rate given that many others experience other sleep-related troubles.
Factors that Contribute to Sleep Deficiency’s Occurrence
People questioned on the subject of sleep deficiency have confessed that stress is a primary cause of the sleeping difficulties they usually face. Common reasons include school or job-related issues, family argues, severe medical conditions of a relative or death. Sleep problems tend to disappear once the triggering factor is no longer present. Still, if not managed in time, more severe issues such as chronic insomnia can occur. The majority of adults that suffer from stress-induced sleep disorders are more prone to develop anxiety or depression. It is for the best that the situation is addressed as soon as possible to avoid further complications.
About 20% of the employees in the United States are shift workers. Working in shifts for extended periods means that one’s sleeping habits change on a regular basis in accordance with the time of the day assigned to the job. For example, night shifts force the individual to sleep during the day in spite of his biological rhythm according to which night sleep is the most resting and beneficial. One study was conducted on two groups of employees. People from the first group were night shift employees while those from the second group were regular shift workers. The results indicated that night shift workers were up to five times more likely than the others to fall asleep at work, this despite regular daytime sleep.
Factors related to the environment can affect the quality of a good night sleep. Elements such as high or low temperatures, light, bed comfort or interruption from children can disrupt sleep. Electronic devices are the primary concern in regards to the adolescents’ sleeping habits in particular. Israeli researchers affirmed that teenagers who keep electronics in their bedrooms go to bed later than usual because they are distracted by them. External noise is another factor related to poor sleeping habits. Research projects suggest that high sound levels decrease sleep intensity and can raise the stress hormone secretion, leading to a general state of tiredness the next day. Furthermore, intermittent sounds are the most disturbing and can seriously affect the adults’ moods.
People who live in urban areas are more prone to experience chronic fatigue due to sleep problems as they are more exposed to disturbances coming from the traffic or neighbors.
Medical conditions, be they physical or psychological, affect sleep. Chronic pain, pre-menstrual syndrome, cold symptoms or discomfort caused by illnesses of the gastrointestinal system lead to sleep deficiency. Pain, be it of low or high intensity, disrupts sleep. People who suffer from depression, anxiety and bipolar disorder find it difficult to fall asleep. Even when they succeed, much of the sleeping period includes rapid eye movement sleep, characterized by dreaming so one cannot fully rest in these conditions either.
Drinking alcohol or beverages containing caffeine, being under treatment that includes alpha and beta blockers or antidepressants can alter the quality of sleep. Also, traveling-related issues such as jet lag or traveling across several time zones can seriously affect the individual’s biological rhythm and lead to irregular sleeping patterns.
According to the National Commission on Sleep Disorders Research and the National Highway Safety Administration, the majority of car accidents involve sleeping deprived people. NHSA specialists have revealed that car crashes due to falling asleep while driving has significant consequences. About 100.000 cars are destroyed, 70.000 people injured and little over 1550 deaths are registered each year in the United States only. More than half of the car accidents are produced by teenagers who suffer from chronic insomnia or are under the effect or certain substances, be they legal or illegal. The United Staes Department of Transportation stated that 4% of the highway crashes are a direct consequence of irregular sleeping habits and tiredness. Many of them are unfortunately fatal.
Ways to Improve Sleep
It is hard to control all the factors that impede a good night sleep but adopting new habits and sticking to them may be beneficial in the long term. They require patience and perseverance but are successful in improving the quality of life. At some point, sleep should come easily and feel as natural as any other activity. Here are some simple ways to improve sleep.
Develop a sleep schedule and stick to it
This way the body’s internal clock can follow a fixed bedtime and wake-up-hour so the sleep is of higher quality. Going to bed and getting up at the same time every day even during the weekends enhance the body’s sleep-wake cycle. This way, falling asleep will feel less like a burned and more like a regular activity. Studies show that it is ideal to fall asleep little before 10 P.M. Around this time the body starts to secrete melatonin, a hormone known to regulate the sleep-wake rhythm. Even so, one should not force himself to fall asleep if he does not feel tired. Specialists advise people to do relaxing activities and go back to bed when sleepiness interferes. Moreover, because the weekday sleeping habits are different from those of weekends, it is better to take a daytime nap rather than sleeping in. this way the sleep-wake cycle will not be affected. Afternoon naps should not be long otherwise people may find it difficult to fall asleep at night. Twenty minutes are usually enough to make one feel refreshed afterward.
Reduce Exposure to Light
Environmental factors can severely alter the sleep quality and may interfere with the sleep-wake cycle, disturbing it. Scientific studies show that exposure to light during the night leads to an increase in heart rate and body temperature which can in turn cause more intense brain activity than required. Light also affects the secretion of melatonin, a hormone that regulates the sleep-wake rhythm. Melatonin is controlled by light to a large extent. The brain produces more of it when there is little to no light as to induce a state of drowsiness and eventually sleep. The brain secretes less melatonin in the presence of light, making one more alert. Many people keep electronic devices in their bedrooms but few are willing to place them in other rooms. It is good to turn them off an hour before going to bed. The body’s sensitivity to light increases by the hour and it can trouble the sleeping patterns. People invest in darker curtains or blinds to dim the light.
Set up a Comfortable Environment
It is ideal that the room one usually sleeps in is as dark and quiet as possible. A peaceful environment sends the brain signals according to which it is time for it to reduce activity. Frequent changes, as minor as they may seem, can make a big difference for healthy sleeping habits. Neighbors are chatting or constant traffic may cause unwanted noise. Ear plugs are a viable solution to block it. Most people sleep best in cool environments, as cold or heat can interfere with the quality of sleep and even impede the sleeping process. The bed one sleeps in is just as important. It should be big enough to allow one to stretch and turn while sleeping without waking up to do so. A good mattress is essential as not to wake up with back pains or other similar problems. People should pay close attention to its firmness and the material’s quality.
Avoid Heavy Foods and Drinks
Discomfort produced by foods rich in fats or alcoholic beverages can impede a good night sleep. Heavy foods should be avoided at least two hours before going to sleep on a full stomach will continue the digestion process and produce discomfort. Likewise, an empty stomach may cause pain. Nutritionists state that people should eat fruits or raw salads at dinner as they digest faster than carbohydrates or fats. Drinking lots of fluids before going to bed leads to a constant need to go to the bathroom cup of water usually suffices. In addition, beverages containing caffeine are best if consumed in the morning because they release active compounds hours after being ingested leading thus to sleep issues.
Avoid Physical Exercises Two Hours Before Going to Sleep
Many types of exercises are meant to increase the heart rate and boost the metabolism to cause a fat burn. They heat up the body that produces adrenaline. All these processes lead to energy levels higher than wanted before sleep. The body needs to consume the extra energy and it does so by keeping people awake, regardless of the hour. Pilates or cardio workouts should be performed in the afternoon. Even yoga that has slower movements can offer a boost of energy. It is better to stick to simple moves that do not require the involvement of too many muscles if on insists on doing any kind of movement before going to bed.
Choose Relaxing Activities
Many people that have created bedtime rituals and perform them every day are more likely to enjoy a good night sleep than those who have not. Soothing activities such as taking a warm bath, using incense sticks, listening to soft music or reading a book are beneficial. A cup of warm milk or lavender tea is just as welcomed.
Sleep-related issues are common and many people can relate to their side effects. Sleep deficiency leads to temporary memory loss, challenging thinking process, general tiredness and even insomnia or chronic fatigue. Fortunately, there are many ways in which people can improve their sleep. Patience is essential in developing healthy habits. Simple choices such as reducing the food intake a couple of hours before going to bed or drinking a cup of tea while the light is dim can work wonders. There are situations when people struggle to fall asleep in spite of trying these activities. A doctor’s advice may be needed. The specialist will most likely prescribe the patient sleep-inducing medication.