The Importance of a Good Night’s Sleep
Do you have trouble sleeping? You’re not alone. An estimated 3.3 million Canadians aged 15 and older, or about one in every seven people, have problems getting to sleep or staying asleep – contributing to insomnia. Part of the problem is 80 percent of North Americans say they believe it’s not possible to sleep enough and be successful at their jobs. As a result, 75 percent experience daytime sleepiness and 34 percent say sleepiness interferes with their daytime activities – that’s certainly no way to live.
Sleep is important for a multitude of reasons but mainly to rebuild, repair and recharge your body. When you’re asleep, your immune system is most active and repairs what it needs to while your brain re-organizes your cerebral ‘files’. Without sleep, you get sick in both mind and body.
Symptoms of Sleep Deﬁcit
• Daytime fatigue
• Poor memory, mental performance
• Depression, apathy
• Heart Disease
• Morning headache, wake-up feeling un-refreshed
• Need to urinate in the middle of the night
• Loud snoring
• Diminished sex drive
• Decreased exercise tolerance
• More than ﬁve pounds of weight gain in the past year
• Need for stimulants
Why Does Your Body Need Sleep?
Sleep Regulates Hormones and Prevents Cancer
Lack of sleep affects hormone levels. A disrupted circadian rhythm (sleep/wake cycle) may create shifts in hormones like melatonin. Melatonin is made in the brain by converting tryptophan into serotonin and then into melatonin, which is released at night by the pineal gland in the brain to induce and maintain sleep. Melatonin is also an antioxidant that helps suppress harmful free radicals in the body and slows the production of estrogens, which may activate cancer.
A link between cancer and the disrupted circadian rhythm lies with a hormone called cortisol, which normally reaches peak levels at dawn then declines throughout the day. When you don’t sleep enough, your cortisol levels don’t peak as they should. Cortisol is one of many hormones that help regulate immune system activity, including natural-killer cells that help the body battle cancer.
Heart Attack and Stroke
Lack of sleep has been associated with high blood pressure and high cholesterol, both potential risk factors for heart disease and stroke. Your heart will be healthier if you get between seven and nine hours of sleep each night.
When your body is sleep-deﬁcient, it goes into a state of stress – creating an increase in blood pressure and production of stress hormones. The stress hormones unfortunately make it even harder for you to sleep. Since reducing stress will allow your body to get a more restful sleep, learn relaxation techniques that will help counter the effects of stress.
A good night’s sleep makes you energized and alert the next day. Being engaged and active not only feels great, it increases your chances for another good night’s sleep. When you wake up feeling refreshed, and you use that energy to get out into the daylight, be active and engaged in your world, you sleep better that night.
Researchers don’t fully understand why we sleep and dream but a process called ‘memory consolidation’ occurs while we sleep. While your body may be resting, your brain is busy processing your day and making connections between events, sensory input, feelings and memories. Getting a good night’s sleep will help you remember and process things better.
Researchers have found that people who sleep less than seven hours per night are more likely to be overweight or obese. It’s believed that the lack of sleep impacts the balance of hormones in the body that affect appetite. The hormones ghrelin and leptin, important for the regulation of appetite, have been found to be disrupted by lack of sleep.
Ways to Maximize Your Sleep
- Listen to white noise or relaxing music
- Avoid before-bed snacks
- Avoid grains and sugar.
- Keep a schedule
- Create a bedtime routine
- Maintain a healthy weight
- Exercise daily
- Make your bedroom dark
- Get some sunshine
- Avoid caffeine after noon
For more tips on maximizing your sleep, and other tips and tricks for living at your best, check out Nathalie’s book Wellness On The Go at http://www.drnathaliebeauchamp.ca.