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The need for sleep

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With the usual New Year resolution of wanting to get fit this year, many invest in physical fitness monitors or smart watches that keep track of one’s steps per day, heart rate, exercise and even the amount of sleep you get every night.

While these monitors are not 100 percent accurate (it depends on how they are worn and how often you wear them), they can help motivate you to keep on walking to reach your goal of 10,000 steps or warn you if your heart rate is too fast. And while a sleep study in a controlled healthcare setting is more appropriate for monitoring sleep, it can be enlightening to get a general idea from these fitness monitors of how long you are actually asleep, the number of times you wake up at night and the amount of deep sleep you get.

Sleep is essential for the body to repair itself. Hormones like the growth hormone is secreted by the brain during sleep and this may help cell regeneration and muscle growth during the night.

Sleep also has a restorative function. Upon awakening from a full night of sleep, individuals typically feel rested and energized. Not getting enough sleep results in poorer daytime performance, a sensation of tiredness or sleepiness, and this can also have adverse effects on the immune system. Lack of sleep also increases your risk of developing high blood pressure, obesity, diabetes, anxiety and depression.

Sleep also seems to play a role in how we learn new things and store information. We do not learn as well when not sleeping enough, thus sleep must have an impact on brain function and memory.

In general, adults need about seven to nine hours of sleep a night, with about one to one and a half hours of deep sleep. Younger children and babies will need 10 to 12 hours of sleep, and as you get older, you may need less hours of sleep to wake up feeling refreshed.

Many complain, however, of not feeling rested when they wake, of not being able to fall asleep or not being able to stay asleep. There are many reasons this happens, and making some lifestyle modifications can help. These are also ways to get more time in deep sleep.

1. Exercising regularly can help you fall asleep naturally. Just don’t exercise close to bedtime because this can stimulate you even more.

2. Reduce caffeine intake in the afternoon and evening, and this includes black tea and energy drinks.

3. Take less naps during the day. After a sleepless night, it is tempting to sleep during the day. This is not harmful if done once in a while but if it becomes a habit you may not be able to fall asleep at all at night. Keep the lights on and curtains open during the day to send the signal to your brain that it is daytime and time to stay awake.

4. Have a quiet, cool and dark sleeping environment. Streetlights and lights from electronic devices can disrupt the darkness of a room, so use blackout curtains and move electronics out of the room, and this includes the TV as well.

PHOTOGRAPH COURTESY OF pexels/andrea piacquadio
Sleep is essential for the body to repair itself.

5. Limit device time before bed. This can be your mobile phone, a computer or TV. Don’t use these devices to help you fall asleep.

6. Create a relaxing routine to wind down in the evening — about 30 minutes to an hour before it’s time to lie down. Bedtime is not the time to start preparing for a presentation or for checking your email. Brush your teeth, do your skincare routine, read (a book, not your phone), meditate or pray, do some deep breathing exercises.

7. Avoid using alcohol to fall asleep. It may help you fall asleep but alcohol interrupts deep sleep and you may wake up feeling tired and groggy.

Sleep experts have also identified a term associated with not getting enough sleep — “revenge bedtime procrastination.” Bedtime procrastination is basically not wanting to go to sleep when it is time for bed. (Sounds like most kids when they don’t have school the next day.)

The additional term “revenge” makes it sound like such an aggressive condition, but this was added on to describe intentionally not going to bed despite being sleepy, refusing to sleep early in order to regain some sense of freedom or control after a long day, with the late night hours being the only “me time.”

Working from home and the pandemic has also made it difficult to delineate where the work day ends and leisure begins. On-demand television also makes it possible to keep on watching episode after episode of a show until you finish the entire series. Maybe turn off the option for auto-play so that the episodes stop playing non-stop.

If you’ve tried everything and still can’t get a good night’s sleep, talk to your doctor. You may have an underlying medical condition that is interfering with your sleep.

We should also reframe how we think of sleep — not as a chore, but something that is good for our health. Remind yourself that you feel better when you’re rested after a good night’s sleep.

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