Sleep and the human being. It’s a love-hate relationship that begins in childhood, when it seems all that parents want to do is get the children in bed as soon as the sun sets, and all the children want is to stay up longer to see what more delights playtime has to offer at night.
The dynamics change in a cruel fashion in adulthood when many a night is spent staring into the dark, calling out for sleep to come for a straight set of hours, to no avail.
The connection between sleep and general health is definite, though scientific research is yet to define how exactly so as involves various body processes. We have all more or less experienced that if we do not get enough sleep on a particular night we will probably wake up the next day mentally and physically fatigued, and probably go throughout the day feeling irritable and moody.
We will probably not be as productive as after having a good night’s sleep. The biggest function of sleep is to ‘rest and repair’ the body from the normal exposures of day to day life, including ultraviolet radiation. More proteins are made by the body during sleep than at any other time, proteins that form the building blocks of our body’s cells.
A short-lived bout of insomnia should generally not cause any panic. The bigger concern is with chronic sleep loss which can contribute to health problems such as a weakened immune system, weight gain, high blood pressure, increased risk of type 2 diabetes, reduced cognitive function and general anxiousness, to name but a few.
Conversely, the health benefits of a consistent good night’s sleep include improved learning and memory (maybe a possible factor as to why children learn and retain new information better and faster than adults), better concentration, less somnolence during the daytime, and better functioning of the body’s organs, including vital organs such as the heart.
FACT: Heart attacks and strokes are more common in the early morning hours.
Other benefits of adequate nighttime sleep include reduced risk of certain cancers, such as breast cancer and colon cancer, thought to be associated with increased production of the protective substance melatonin in the dark; for the same reason it is recommended to switch off lights and objects that radiate energy where you sleep (such as LED lights of mobile phone and computer screens), as this interrupts the body’s production of melatonin.
FOOD FOR THOUGHT: Doctors, nurses and other health care workers who work night shifts as part of their regular work routine are thought to be at a higher risk of developing cancer due to interrupted production of melatonin with increased exposure to light in the dark!
Further, sleep also reduces inflammation in the body (linked to various conditions including cancers and irritable bowel syndrome); and is important in combating the ultimate of all stresses – stress itself.
Now comes the shocker! Adequate sleep for the average adult ranges from 7 to 9 hours per night. Getting less than 6 hours per night of sleep over a long period of time predisposes one to all
the risks of chronic sleep deprivation. Furthermore, daytime napping (for a period of 15 to 20 minutes, and definitely not more than 30minutes) seems to provide added benefits – a study of 24,000 adults in Greece showed that those who napped several times a week, as opposed to taking a caffeine or sugary foods break, had increased energy levels for the rest of the day and had lower levels of stress and related conditions (such as heart disease).Early morning exercise versus late afternoon or evening exercise, as well as the oft repeated healthy balanced diet, have also shown to reduce the frequency of insomnia. Smoking is your enemy in your search for adequate sleep.
So, draw the blinds, turn out the lights, and sleep your way to better health!
… By Dr. Jackie Mavuti
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