Do you get enough?
This week, my family are moving house. We are downsizing and clearing out an awful lot of things we’ve had hanging around for too long, which feels good. What doesn’t feel good is the exhaustion that goes along with it. Being that we are quite literally moving everything ourselves, you can imagine that by the end of this week legs, arms, backs and feet are sore and aching. Having disrupted their bedrooms and routine, our two young children aren’t sleeping well, and, as many of you out there will know, when the little ones don’t sleep, parents don’t sleep. With a husband who works night shift, our family night shift falls to me. So here, in my somewhat droopy eyed state, I decided sleep seemed the perfect topic for this week’s post.
I used to sleep anywhere between eight to ten hours a night, and, if I didn’t hit my eight-hour minimum for some reason, I’d spend the weekend catching up. Of course, that was way back before children, when the only person I had to worry about was myself (oh how I miss the simplicity). Those of you out there with young ones (or experiencing the nervous angst that comes with having older ones) will relate – you suddenly find yourself grateful for anything over five hours in dreamland, and if that happens to be uninterrupted, woohoo, break out the Perrier, we have cause for celebration!
Young children are not the only contributing factor to less sleep than we need…stress, worry, long work hours, changing work shifts, workloads, changes in weather, construction going on in the neighbourhood (note to self, thank next door neighbour for insisting his workers start building at 5am) and goodness knows what else, all play a part in determining how much sleep we get. While walking around in something of a zombie like state and reaching for the caffeine may tell us we aren’t getting enough, how much do we actually need?
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Research varies on the topic, but the general consensus is that adults need between seven and nine hours sleep per night (children, we know, need more – see next week’s article for children’s health needs), but why? What does it do for us? Who says we can’t fully function on less? I feel fine after a six-hour sleep, in fact I count that as a good night (oh how times have changed), but how does that affect my health?
First of all, sleep plays an important role in our physical health (one example: sleep is involved in the healing and repair of your heart and blood vessels); prolonged sleep deficiency is linked to an increased risk of heart disease, kidney disease, high blood pressure, diabetes and stroke (scary stuff). Our immune systems rely on sleep to stay healthy. This is the system that defends our bodies against foreign and harmful substances and ongoing sleep deficiency can change the way we respond, often causing difficulty in fighting common infections (ever noticed that you tend to pick up colds more quickly when you’re tired?). Sleep deficiency also increases our risk of obesity: long story short, sleep helps us maintain a healthy balance of the hormones that make us feel hungry (ghrelin) and full (leptin); when you don’t get enough sleep, ghrelin goes up and leptin goes down, which makes you feel hungrier than when you’re well rested. Sleep also plays an important role in growth and development and triggers our bodies to release the hormone that boosts muscle mass and helps repair cells and tissue (helps explain the extra muscle aches this week).
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If that’s not enough to get you headed to the pillow, let’s talk brain function and emotional well-being…Sleep helps our brains work properly, by preparing for the next day, forming new pathways to help us learn and remember information (ever tried to teach a child who stayed up late the night before? Trust me, it’s not easy). Regardless of age or what skills we happen to be learning, along with problem-solving skills, sleep improves our ability to learn. It also helps us pay attention, make decisions and be creative. Lack of sleep makes it difficult to make decisions, solve problems, control our emotions and behaviour and cope with change (ah, an explanation for the swell of emotions as our house moving week goes on); sleep deficiency has also been linked to depression and suicide (suddenly getting more serious, isn’t it?).
Sleep increases our productivity, helping us to finish tasks more quickly, react to things immediately and make less mistakes. After several nights of losing just an hour or two of sleep, our ability to function suffers, which leads me to something very important – MICROSLEEP. Microsleep means brief moments of sleep that occur when we are normally awake (and are usually caused by lack of deep sleep) and is something we can’t control; sometimes we are not even aware of it – have you ever been in a class, meeting or discussion and find you’ve missed details or information? You may have slept through part of it and not realised (I kid you not). How about driving??? Have you ever driven somewhere and not remembered part of the trip, or realised at the last minute you were about to miss your exit? Drowsy drivers often feel capable of driving, but, according to research, sleep deficiency harms our driving as much as and sometimes more than, being drunk and is a factor in thousands of deaths each year. So, while we think going without sleep really only affects us on a personal level, it can cause damage on a far larger scale.
Now I’m not sure about you, but I think I’ll be heading to bed early this evening, even if that bed is a mattress on the floor of an empty house. Sweet dreams friends.
Health Coach & Nutritional Therapist
Contact for an Appointment: firstname.lastname@example.org
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