Although the exact reasons why we need to sleep are not fully understood, research indicates that we as humans are able to live much longer without food than they can without sleep. Along with human beings, every mammal, reptile and bird needs sleep as well. Whilst the precise reasons why sleep is important continue to be a mystery, it is known that while sleeping most of the body’s major organ and regulatory systems continue to actively function. In fact, certain parts of the brain increase their activity significantly and your body produces more of particular hormones. Nobody understands the reason why we sleep although various scientific theories have been put forward. Several experts have suggested that we might sleep due to sheer habit, without any biological basis.
Effect of Sleep on the Brain
Sleep could be a period for the brain to recharge. While asleep, the brain shuts down and repairs neurons and exercises synapses that could gradually break down and weaken with insufficient activity. This might be a period for fine tuning the synaptic connections which get stronger, weaken, break and change. The theory is that sleep is a chance to change those synaptic connections back to their original design after becoming muddled up through the day.
Sleep offers the brain an opportunity to reorganise information, to find solutions to problems, to process fresh information and also to organize and archive memories. The brain reinforces memory and categorises everything learned into a certain order, and removes the useless, impertinent information.
When humans sleep, the brain has the ability to filter events which do and do not affect long term memory. Glycogen levels in the brain are replenished while asleep. Sleep is essential for survival in mammals. For instance, rats will die after about fourteen days with no sleep. Following substantial weight loss, they will be unable to regulate their body temperature and will develop infections. In humans, insufficient sleep results in impaired memory and reduced mental abilities, moodiness, and hallucinations.
Effect of Sleep on the Body
Sleep might also be a period of rest for the heart and lungs. Us humans with normal or elevated blood pressure have a 20-30% decrease in pressure along with a 10-20% heart rate reduction.
Sleep offers the body an opportunity to replace chemicals and repair muscles, various other tissues and aging or dead cells. This may also have an impact on strengthening the immune system.
In children and young adults, growth hormones are released while asleep. Circadian rhythm or a day-night cycle of about twenty four hours has a big effect on the timing, quantity and quality of sleep. A well balanced circadian rhythm results in better sleep. Adult humans need seven to eight hours of sleep each night.
Sleep and Energy Metabolism
While sleeping, metabolic processes decrease as does energy consumption.
Sleep experts have theorised that sleep might restore certain chemicals that are depleted during periods of wakefulness. Researchers have isolated chemical compounds which change while asleep, such as adenosine, which has an effect on metabolic process and fatigue. Nevertheless, nobody has actually pinned down a conclusive chemical explanation for sleep.
Several experts have theorised that sleeping might be an evolutionary instrument to conserve energy while some others suggest sleep offers the brain a chance to process experiences or perhaps to exercise neurological pathways which have lain dormant throughout the day.
Sleep has a therapeutic benefit in that it offers the body and mind the opportunity to revitalise, reenergise, and restore. We all organise long term memory, integrate fresh knowledge, and repair and restore tissue, nerve cells along with other chemical compounds. Furthermore, sleep is of an adaptive nature. As primitive human beings and mammals, it was and is much easier to find food in the daytime and, for mammals, to hide during the night. Furthermore, sleep is a matter of energy preservation. Whilst sleeping, human beings are conserving energy when it would be unlikely to find food if we stayed awake.
Our sleep habits are also controlled by way of a hormonal body clock. Melatonin within the body increases during evening hours helping to make us drowsy. Morning brings a decrease in melatonin concentration. Likewise, daylight helps us to stay awake. When our eyes get strong light waves, the melatonin production is reduced by way of links with our visual system.
The quantity and quality of sleep we have is directly linked to the quantity and quality of our productivity.
Insufficient sleep can result in –
- Drops in Performance
- Lack of Concentration
- Reduced Reaction Times
- Problems in Grouping Learned Information
- Lapses in Memory
- Accidents and Injuries
- Behavioural Problems and Mood Swings
So this list alone is enough reason to get into the habit of sleeping.
Some tips for you:
1. Keep regular sleep hours
Going to bed and getting up at roughly the same time every day will programme your body to sleep better. Choose a time when you’re likely to feel tired and sleepy.
Routine for children is really important especially if you have a child that struggles with sleep.
- Tea at a set time (think about what you are feeding them…..sugary, fatty foods will not aid sleep, whereas vitamin enriched, omega, protein and mineral fuelled food will encourage their organs to recharge as they sleep)
- TV or leisure for an hour before bed (nothing too stimulating)
- Read a Book together in bed
- White noise is powerful…have you ever led in bed listening to the rain tapping on your window, making you feel safe and warm…you can get jungle noises, woodland noises, rain, meditation music which you can put on as you leave to aid sleep within a child.
- Sleep – you can have a diffuser on with lovely calming oils that also doubles up as a night light.
Our lives can sometimes interrupt a regular routine….but I promise once you have one the child that didn’t sleep, will eventually fall into slumber as it’s been trained to do so.
If lack of sleep is still a problem after a month of practice, please seek medical or professional help.
2. Create a restful sleeping environment
Your bedroom should be a peaceful place for rest and sleep. Temperature, lighting and noise should be controlled so that your bedroom environment helps you to fall (and stay) asleep.
If you keep all your paperwork and bills in your bedroom, this will not aid sleep and may bring your attention to this pile whilst trying to sleep….your bedroom is for sleep…amongst other things ;0).
If you have a pet that sleeps in the room with you, consider moving it somewhere else if it often disturbs you in the night.
Also having a young child sleeping with you will disturb their sleep as well as yours. At some point you have to make the decision that your child sleeps in their own room.
3. Make sure your bed is comfortable
It’s difficult to get restful sleep on a mattress that’s too soft or too hard, or a bed that’s too small or old.
I can vouch for this!! We have just replaced our mattress and I am sleeping 10 x better than I was before!
4. Exercise regularly
Moderate exercise on a regular basis, such as swimming or walking, can help relieve some of the tension built up over the day. Make sure that you don’t do vigorous exercise, such as running or the gym, too close to bedtime, though, as it may keep you awake.
Yoga can also aid sleep, there are many levels to Yoga and it’s about finding one that fits you. Power Yoga in the morning will set you up for the day, whereas calm stretching and breathing Yoga in the evening, with essential oils, will set you mind up for sleep.
Also invest in yourself…Reiki, Massage….therapy – talking therapies will help you sleep as you talk about your unfriendly thoughts.
5. Cut down on caffeine
Cut down on caffeine in tea, coffee, energy drinks or colas, especially in the evening. Caffeine interferes with the process of falling asleep, and also prevents deep sleep. Instead, have a warm, milky drink or herbal tea.
If you have coffee at work, stop at 3pm, giving you enough hours before bedtime to process the caffeine in your system.
6. Don’t over-indulge
Too much food or alcohol, especially late at night, can interrupt your sleep patterns. Alcohol may help you to fall asleep initially, but it will disrupt your sleep later on in the night.
You know this right….? when you fall into your pit and sleep fairly easy only to awake at 0200 or 0300 feeling really uncomfortable and with a banging headache…your organs are working overtime to process the alcohol and fat….this should be the time that they rejuvenate.
7. Don’t smoke
Nicotine is a stimulant. Smokers take longer to fall asleep, they wake up more frequently, and they often have more disrupted sleep.
8. Try to relax before going to bed
Have a warm bath, listen to quiet music or do some gentle yoga to relax the mind and body. Listen to some meditation or meditating music, loads on You Tube.
9. Write away your worries, replace with gratitude
If you tend to lie in bed thinking about everything you have to do tomorrow, set aside time before bedtime to make plans for the next day. The aim is to avoid doing these things when you’re in bed, trying to sleep. Also, get yourselves a gratitude journal, those worries will dissipate as you realise what you are thankful for.
10. If you can’t sleep, get up
If you can’t sleep, don’t lie there worrying about it. Get up and do something you find relaxing until you feel sleepy again, then go back to bed. A warm milky drink, and listening to meditation or meditation music, no films that are violent with fast action. Read a book, this will make your eyes tired, in low level light.
If lack of sleep is persistent and affecting your daily life, make an appointment to see your GP.
As always I hope this helps…..you know where I am.
Love and Warmth
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