Health & Nutrition Articles
Health Essentials: An Overview of Sleep
The value of getting a good night's sleep is understood by many. Healthy sleep patterns are known to help you feel better prepared the following day, but studies also show that proper sleep improves memory, learning, mood, and creativity . Sleeping can also make it easier to maintain a good diet and has been linked to stronger immune system function. On the other hand, those that don't get regular sleep might feel depressed, have little energy, and slow mentally. Sometimes the effects of bad sleep habits are not immediately obvious, but the toll adds up over time instead. When someone becomes used to poor sleep, it's possible for them not to recognize the impact it has on their lives and their health. When we consider what constitutes a good night's rest, it's not merely about the time spent sleeping, but also having quality, uninterrupted sleep during those hours, and doing so night after night with regularity.
Some Quick Facts About Sleep
Sleep is Vital to Good Health
Proper Sleep Improves Cognitive Functions
Poor Sleep has Negative Mental and Physical Impacts
What Happens While We Sleep?
The entire body is affected by how we sleep. Sleeping is a process that is quite complex. During sleep, we go through a series of sleep stages. The first two stages are known as light sleep, which turns into deep sleep, and at last, REM sleep, or rapid eye movement sleep. When consistently being able to cycle through these stages, multiple times and night after night, it allows our bodies and minds to be restored. The restorative function of sleep is crucial to overall health. This article will go into more detail about each of these elements which define healthy sleep.
What Factors Affect Sleep Quality
The amount of time spent sleeping is a foundation for proper rest. Most adults should get an average of 7-9 hours of sleep. Seniors over the age of 65 should get between 7 and 8 hours . Children grow and develop rapidly, and therefore require even more sleep than adults, specific recommendations vary according to age. Infants may require up to 17 hours of sleep, and teens need around 10 hours. While sleep guidelines are helpful to compare your sleep habits against, it is important to note that each individual has unique sleep requirements. Factors such as physical activity levels throughout the day, genetics, and daily routines may suggest that more or less time spent sleeping is necessary for you .
A good night's sleep is a continuous sleep. Sleeping all the way through until the wake-up alarm sounds, with little to no disruption, is more restorative than disruptive sleep. Short or long disruptions in sleep interfere with the various cycles of sleep, and it may prevent one from achieving enough REM and deep sleep. Sleep deprivation is common in those suffering from sleep apnea. Sleep apnea causes one to have brief partial awakenings due to lapses in breathing, and although they appear to get a proper amount of time sleeping, the deprivation still occurs if the cycles are broken, and deep sleep and REM sleep cycles occur infrequently enough for such an effect .
Brain and body function are closely tied to getting continuous sleep. Research surrounding the study of sleep indicates that continuous, uninterrupted sleep is perhaps as important as the amount of time spent sleeping . A study has found that individuals who experienced continuous sleep functioned better on cognitive tasks the following day. This result seemed to be independent of the length of time spent sleeping .
When we choose to sleep is an important factor which affects the quality of sleep we experience. Circadian rhythms are affected by the environment of the person going to sleep and their internal clock. Light from the surroundings is the most important regulator of circadian rhythms . Light sets off a series of biological processes that cause us to be alert. An absence of light initiates chemical processes in the brain, such as the production of melatonin, that help us feel tired and go to sleep. When the time set aside for sleep does not correlate with circadian rhythms, it is more difficult to get the right amount of time spent asleep, falling asleep becomes more difficult as does staying asleep. This has been well documented in the case of overnight workers, and also affects those with jet lag .
A regular, daily sleep schedule is shown to promote healthy sleep patterns. Scientists who have studied the effects in mice that had their sleeping routine changed reported that although the duration of their sleep remained the same, the quality of sleep worsened . Studies in humans have linked a regular sleep schedule to a reduced risk of health problems like obesity and diabetes .
What are the Benefits of Good Sleep?
While assessing your nighttime sleep for factors like bedtime, sleep duration, and continuity- many short and long-term benefits can be attributed to healthy sleep , such as:
Feeling rested and refreshed upon waking up
Increased mental clarity
Likewise, unhealthy patterns of sleep have negative health effects as well. Those who experience poor quality sleep or are chronically deprived of sleep may exhibit certain symptoms , like:
Irritability, anxiety, or depression
Having difficulty waking up when it is time to
Napping during the day
Feeling sleepy during the day
Sleeping later/ longer on non-workdays
Ensuring Proper Sleep
If you believe you have any of these symptoms, begin assessing your sleep habits to determine if adjustments could be made to achieve a more restful sleep. This may include adjustments to daily activities, establishing a bedtime routine, or a change to your surroundings. It is recommended to seek the advice of a healthcare professional if problems persist, or if you are unsure how to adjust your sleep habits. It's also important to talk to your doctor if you currently are engaging in healthy sleep practices but are continuously experiencing problems sleeping. Seek medical advice if you believe you have a sleep disorder, your doctor can evaluate your symptoms and factors that may be affecting your sleep and discuss treatment options that may significantly improve your sleep health.
Sleep Medicines and Supplements
The activities performed throughout the day and the routines we follow prior to falling asleep sometimes make it harder to drift off than usual. For this sort of occasional sleeplessness, many people choose to take an over-the-counter sleep aid, or a sleep-supporting supplement to either fall asleep faster or stay asleep longer. More serious sleeplessness, such as insomnia or other sleeping disorders, may require prescription medications administered by your doctor. These solutions are valuable for the issues they help resolve, and it is important to discuss with your doctor if you believe you need extra help getting sleep. It is estimated that up to 35% of Americans struggle to get the recommended seven or more hours of sleep each night . Unsurprisingly, many people turn to over the counter and prescription medications for help, but natural sleep aids are also a popular choice. It is important to make informed choices when deciding on whether a sleep aid is right for you, and which one to choose if so.
Natural sleep aids are available over the counter as supplements intended to support sleep by inducing sleep faster or helping to keep you asleep longer. Usually, a vitamin or mineral that supports sleep, or a compound naturally produced in the body like melatonin, sleep supplement ingredients can be numerous. When deciding on the best supplement to relieve occasional sleeplessness, it is strongly advised to discuss the options you consider with your doctor prior to taking any product. Your doctor or pharmacist can assist you in making informed choices regarding your health, and also identify any interactions between medications that may occur with a sleep aid.
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