Aside from eating and drinking, there is nothing more vital to our health than sleeping. More than simply making us lethargic and irritable, lack of sleep can have far more severe consequences.
Sleep is essential to almost all bodily functions and lack of it can seriously diminish our physical and mental functionality. A lack of sleep also weakens the immune system and impedes our body’s natural ability to fight disease.
Some of the specific conditions associated with sleep deprivation include high blood pressure, heart attack and heart failure.
However, more isn’t necessarily better and having optimal sleep is somewhat of a balancing act that changes in stages. Too much sleep not only reduces productivity and eats into the day, it can also increase susceptibility to medical conditions.
Studies have shown that frequent oversleeping can increase the risk of heart disease, stroke and diabetes. Surprisingly, there are some conditions which increase in likelihood with both too much and too little sleep.
This highlights the importance of ensuring that sleep is properly and consistently regulated. There are several factors that affect how much sleep an individual needs and it will differ for each of us.
For those of you feeling as though you’re struggling to accumulate optimate sleep hours, here are some useful tips.
Comfort is Key
Whilst this may seem obvious, too many people neglect their beds and wait far too long to replace their bed. A crucial way of ensuring optimal sleep is having a comfortable mattress, bed frame and bedding.
Once we become accustomed to an old and worn mattress, we may not realize the extent of our discomfort. Mold and mites are just a couple of things that infiltrate and diminish old mattresses.
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Ditch the Electronics
Try to avoid staring at a TV, smartphone or tablet until the very second you shut your eyes to sleep. These devices emit blue light which can affect your body’s ability to produce melatonin, making falling asleep more difficult.
Furthermore, should you wake up during the night, try to avoid the urge to glance at the time on your phone. This will naturally trigger thoughts about the upcoming day that may impair your ability to fall back asleep.
A nap after a long day at work or school may seem very enticing, however, it disrupts our sleeping pattern. Not only will it mean you feel less tired at night, but falling into a deep sleep affects our internal body clock.
A cold drink or short walk are great ways of reducing tiredness without resorting to a short sleep. If you absolutely have to nap, try to keep it as short as possible, around 20 minutes or so.
Have a Routine
Having a set time to go to sleep and wake up allows our body clocks to attune. This will naturally make us feel more tired at bedtime and more awake in the mornings.
Avoid Eating Late
Eating late means that our digestive system is overly active as we attempt to sleep, making us feel less tired. Try to have dinner at a reasonable time and keep any late-night snacks small and light.
A morning tea or coffee is fine, however, avoid consuming caffeine later in the day as even small quantities affect us. No caffeine after noon is a good rule to guarantee that sleep isn’t disrupted.
How Sleep Changes Throughout Our Life
As previously mentioned, our sleeping patterns will vary slightly during different stages of our life.
Newborn and very young children obviously require the most sleep, spending around 70% of their time snoozing. Being asleep helps them to grow, learn and retain memories, all of which are particularly vital at the infantile stage.
They sleep in shorter periods than adults, usually 2-4 hours, however, they accumulate up to 18 hours worth daily.
From three to twelve months old, a baby’s sleep changes as its circadian rhythm becomes more regular and developed. It’s at this age that sleep regulating hormones such as melatonin and cortisol start being produced.
This stage also sees the nodding off for longer stretches, usually six hours or more.
At age 1-2, 11-14 hours of sleep is usually required daily. At 3-5, slightly less is necessary at 10-13.
Whilst the majority of this is accumulated at night, daytime naps are perfectly acceptable for younger kids.
During our teenage years, our sleep requirements are more similar to those of an adult. Only 8-10 hours is required.
However, it’s not uncommon for teenagers to stay up late as they gain more independence and become more defiant.
The general recommendation for adults aged 18-60 is approximately 7-9 hours of sleep per night. However, this can vary greatly with an individual’s personal lifestyle.
Missing out on required sleep is most common amongst adults and it’s expected that they won’t always get enough shut eye.
Older adults, aged 65 and over, require about an hour less than their younger counterparts. However, less sleep regulating hormones are produced with age making sleep quality fluctuate drastically.
A Good Night’s Sleep is Very Important
Getting up and dragging ourselves away from the warm comfort of bed is a daily struggle for many. Sleep affects almost every face of both our physical and mental well-being, impacting both our internal and external functions.
Having sufficient sleep is vital for staying healthy and avoiding the serious long term health complications caused by sleep deprivation.