When we think about the aspects of a healthy lifestyle, sleep is often overlooked. Without enough sleep we become moody, unable to focus and concentrate, and less able to remember things and deal with stress. But you may not realize how vitally important sleep is in maintaining your health.
Several studies have linked insufficient sleep with weight gain. In 2004, researchers at the University of Chicago discovered that sleep loss could reduce the body's ability to regulate hormones that control hunger. People who do not get enough sleep have lower levels of leptin, a hormone that alerts the brain that it has enough food, and higher levels of ghrelin, a protein that stimulates appetite. As a result, poor sleep may result in over eating and food cravings.
When we are tired we are more likely to eat foods such as sweets and refined carbohydrates that satisfy the craving for a quick energy boost. In addition, insufficient sleep may leave us too tired to burn off these extra calories with exercise and less likely to cook our own meals , making us more reliant on restaurants and fast-food to fill our bellies. So if you want to loose some weight, make sure you get your zzzz's.
What many people do not realize is that a lack of sleep—especially on a regular basis—is associated with long-term health consequences, including heart disease, stroke, diabetes, obesity and depression. Numerous epidemiological studies have demonstrated that adults who usually slept less than five hours per night had a greatly increased risk of having or developing diabetes. Studies have also found that a single night of inadequate sleep in people who have existing hypertension can cause elevated blood pressure throughout the following day.
Experts say the amount of sleep we need varies from person to person. In general, most adults need about seven hours of sleep per night. Children and adolescents need even more — around nine or 10 hours each night. The best measure of how much shut-eye you need is how you feel when you wake up. If you feel well and are energetic, then you likely had a good night's sleep.
According to a poll commissioned by CBC News, 6 out of 10 Canadians get less than the optimal 6-8 hours of sleep per night. Why are so many of us not getting enough sleep?
Apparently as we age, we tend to get less good quality sleep. Melatonin levels tend to shift with age and as we age we wake more often and get less stage 3 and 4 sleep, which is the sleep required to feel rested. In addition, sleep is lighter in menopause. But age is not the only culprit in our sleep deprivation. Depression, alcohol, caffeine, pain, stress and the use of electronics right before bed can all interfere with sleep patterns.
10 Tips for Better Sleep
1) Keep your bedroom cool and dark. We sleep better in a cool, dark environment.
2) Don't exercise right before bed, unless you're doing a bit of gentle yoga. Keep vigorous exercise for earlier in the day.
3) Don't eat right before bed. Stop eating at least 2 hours before bedtime.
4) Follow a routine. Try to go to bed at about the same time each night and follow a similar routine. This will let your body know that it's time to sleep.
5) You get the best sleep before 4-5 am, so try to go to bed by 10 or 11 pm. At around 4 or 5 am, physiological changes such as increases in blood pressure, adrenalin and body temperature start to get you ready to wake up, so after this time, your quality of sleep may diminish.
6) Limit caffeine. Caffeine has a half life of about 5-6 hours, but oral contraceptives can double it. This means that the caffeine from your morning cup of joe can still be stimulating your nervous system up to 10 hours later! If you must have your coffee, have it before noon. This goes for all caffeinated beverages.
7) If you wake often to use the bathroom, stop drinking liquids after 7 pm, especially after the age of 50.
8) Limit alcohol. Alcohol blocks restorative stage 3 and 4 sleep early in the night and can wake you up later in the night.
9) Get enough exercise, but not right before bed time. Regular exercise has been shown to improve sleep quality. As little as 10 minutes of walking per day can make a difference.
10) Don't watch tv, or use the computer right before bed. Artificial light from electronics stimulates the nervous system and lowers melatonin levels. Unplug at least 30 minutes before bedtime.
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