Sleep: Essential for Mind-Body Health

By: Pamela Ballard

Did you know? 
Humans are the only mammals that willingly delay sleep! 

Sleep: Essential for Mind-Body Health
Adults and children alike are spending more time awake late at night to study, work, or have fun. All those late nights may be slowly killing us. More than 20 years of research shows us that sleep is vitally important to physical and mental health. 
Most of what we know about sleep and health comes from studies of what happens to the mind and body when we don't sleep enough, or at all. In animal and human studies, living without sleep for even a few months resulted in death. Sleeping fewer than 8 hours a night on a regular basis is associated with increased risk for diabetes, heart disease and stroke, depression, colds and flu, and obesity. 

While We Are Sleeping...
Sleep affects brain chemistry and has an important role in the functioning of the nervous, immune and endocrine systems. During sleep we develop and reinforce neural pathways involved in memory, learning, and emotion. New research suggests sleep helps flush toxins from the brain. 
While we are sleeping, the body manufactures hormones that repair damage caused by stress and the environment in which we work and play. Growth hormone cleanses the liver, builds muscle, breaks down fat, and helps normalize blood sugar. We also produce hormones that help fight infections. If we aren't getting sufficient sleep, we get sick more often and take longer to recover. Lack of sleep increases inflammation, which is has been linked to heart disease and stroke. 
Skimping on shut-eye is linked with obesity in adults and children. Lack of sleep interferes with the levels of metabolic hormones that signal when you're hungry and when you're full. 
The amount of sleep you need varies based on age, activity level, quality of sleep, and genetics (e.g., some of us really are night owls). Infants typically require 14-15 hours of sleep per 24-hour period; young children about 12 hours; teens about 9 hours, and most adults 7-9 hours. A general rule of thumb for determining your sleep requirement: If you do not wake feeling refreshed, you may not be getting enough sleep. 

Are You Sleep Deprived?
You don't have to pull "all-nighters" to become sleep deprived. A sleep debt of just 1-2 hours a few nights a week can affect your health and performance. To become fully well-rested and regain energy after a sleep debt, get an extra hour of sleep each night for one week. 
If you experience any of the following the signs of sleep deprivation, talk to your healthcare provider about natural approaches to getting your sleep back on track. 
·         Daytime drowsiness; fatigue
·         Poor memory; difficulty concentrating
·         Changes in appetite
·         Difficulty dealing with stress
·         Irritability
·         Muscle tension; impaired vision
·         Increase in accidents or clumsiness
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