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Why sleep is so important for our health

Why sleep is so important for our health

Did you know that we spend about a third of our lives asleep? Or at least we should do. A good night's sleep is incredibly vital for your health; infact, it is just as crucial for our bodies as eating, drinking, breathing and exercising. Without good quality sleep, you can’t reach optimal health. Sleeping is not lazy; it is necessary, and you need to make sure you’re getting the right amount of it for many reasons. Not only is sleep essential for maintaining good mental and physical health, it sets you up for the day, but it also helps you to rest and recover. According to the National Sleep Foundation, sleep is not a time when our body’s shut down; it is an active period in which a lot of essential processing, restoration, and strengthening occurs – so without it, our bodies won’t function in the best way that they can.

According to scientists, you need sleep to help you to solidify and consolidate your memories. As you go about your day, your brain takes in an incredible amount of information which then needs to be processed and stored. It isn't logged and recorded straight away, so overnight while you are asleep pieces of information are transferred from your short-term memory to your stronger, long-term memory and this process is what scientists call "consolidation." Researchers have found that after people sleep, they are usually able to retain information, and they perform better on memory tasks. Humans require long periods of sleep to restore and rejuvenate, grow muscle, repair tissue, and synthesise hormones.

Poor sleep is strongly linked to weight gain

People who don’t get enough sleep tend to weigh significantly more than those who get an adequate amount and good quality sleep. Short sleep duration is one of the most influential risk factors for obesity as it can affect your hormones and your motivation to exercise and studies show that sleep-deprived individuals have a bigger appetite and tend to eat more calories. Hence, if you’re trying to lose weight, getting quality sleep is crucial.

Good Sleep Can Improve Concentration and Productivity

You know how you feel when you’ve had a good sleep, so it’s no surprise that sleep is essential for brain function and your cognition, concentration, productivity and performance are all negatively affected by sleep deprivation.

Poor Sleepers Have a Greater Risk of Heart Disease and Stroke

Sleep quality and duration can have a significant effect on many health risk factors. It affects Glucose Metabolism and Type 2 Diabetes Risk and people who sleep less than six hours a night have repeatedly been shown to be at an increased risk of type 2 diabetes.

Poor sleep is also linked to depression and anxiety, loss of sleep has also been shown to impair immune function, and researchers believe that poor sleep affects your ability to recognise important social cues and process emotional information.

So, everyone can benefit from improving the quality of your sleep. For many of us, it may merely be a case of making small lifestyle or attitude adjustments to help you sleep better and in turn improve your mood, energy and concentration levels, our relationships, and our ability to stay awake and function at work during the day. Often basic techniques can improve your sleep:

Start With Looking After Your Health While You’re Awake

While poor sleep can affect your health, your health can affect your sleep too. So, one thing you can do is to look after your health during the day. Make an effort to eat well, to exercise (even if you’re too tired) and go to the doctor about any other issues you may have. Once you start to tackle these problems, your sleep will improve, and so will your general health.

Change Your Environment

Where you sleep is very important, and the bedroom and bed should be a place where you mainly associate with sleep. Watching TV, playing on your phone or eating in bed can all affect the quality of your sleep. Then there’s also temperature, noise levels and light which can play a part in the quality of our sleep too. Try to switch off at least an hour before bed, don’t look at your phone or any screens; you could read a book but make sure you have low lighting and use the time before bed as a time to relax and wind down. While you might struggle with this at first, keep going and make it a habit and your body will soon learn when it’s time for bed, and you won’t struggle at all to get to sleep.

Try To Relax

Okay, this is easier said than done and these days it can be harder than ever to switch off, but there are some fantastic relaxation techniques such as a warm bath or mindfulness practice which can all help. When you’re struggling to sleep and lying awake tossing and turning your mind racing, it can be tempting to turn on the TV or phone screen, but this may stimulate you and make it harder to nod off. However, if you can pre-empt this then before you go to sleep, get a mindfulness app or meditation playing on your phone. Put your phone away and lie down and let it help you sleep.

Pay Attention To Your Lifestyle

You probably know that it's not the best idea to have a cup of coffee right before bed, but did you know that other food and drink can have an effect on your sleep too? Having a heavy, sugary meal before you go to bed can make sleep uncomfortable, and while you might think that alcohol helps you to sleep better, it might help you get to sleep, but it reduces the quality of sleep you have. Doing some exercise during the day is also an excellent way to aid sleep, but exercise releases adrenaline so exercising during the evening may not be the best thing to do.

How Much Sleep Do You Really Need?

Healthy sleep is critical for everyone since everyone needs to retain information and learn skills to thrive in life. This is why children need more sleep than adults as they develop so rapidly in the first few years of their lives. While adults need about 7-9 hours of sleep per night, one-year-olds need roughly 11 to 14 hours, school-age children need between 9 and 11 hours, and teenagers need between 8 and 10 hours of sleep. These are critical periods of growth and learning for children, so they need to get a decent amount of shut-eye to develop.

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