Sleep on it…

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18 June, 2015 Dr. Linda Friedland Performance

Research shows that lack of sleep, or disrupted sleep, can have detrimental short- and long-term effects, says Dr Lisa Shives, medical director at Northshore Sleep Medicine in Illinois, USA. Health problems such as depression and serious illnesses also to develop if poor quality sleep persists for a number of days or weeks. If this doesn’t bother you, then be bothered by the fact that lack of sleep can also make you fatter and age quicker.

Some people claim to function optimally with as little as three to five hours of sleep. However, for most people getting seven or eight hours is optimal for maintaining good health. It is best to pay attention to your body and look out for the changes in mood or attention span that may occur when you lose sleep.

Melatonin is a hormone naturally produced by the pineal gland at night. Melatonin makes us feel drowsy and helps us achieve a restful night’s sleep. In addition to this, melatonin is an antioxidant that aids in supporting our immune system. Sleep deprivation can weaken our immune system, making us more vulnerable to diseases and disorders, from the common cold to diabetes.

The real challenge when it comes to sleep deprivation, is what to do about it. Sedative prescription sleeping pills are only indicated in very serious instances and even then, only for a short course. They are highly addictive with many side-effects.

Here are some healthier strategies:

  • Stay out of bed until you’re tired. Shives warns that lying in bed waiting to fall asleep can lead to sleep anxiety, which in turn makes it harder to doze off.
  • She recommends engaging in calm and quiet activity, such as reading or listening to relaxing music, for 30-60 minutes before bedtime.
  • Avoid television and bright lights.
  • Get snoring checked. Snoring is a symptom of sleep apnea, a decrease of airflow during sleep. Waking frequently throughout the night is another symptom. Talk to your doctor about taking a sleep test, which will diagnose the condition, as bringing sleep apnea under control will mean more restful nights.
  • Stop opening e-mails and start closing your eyes. Light from electronic devices, including computers, cell phones, and televisions, stimulates the brain to get up and go, says Shives.
  • Eat more fish. Omega-3 fatty acids can boost your memory and increase serotonin, a hormone responsible for happiness.
  • Take a nap during the day, but keep it brief. According to a study presented at the 2009 APSS annual meeting, a short nap may boost your mood and performance on cognitive tasks. However, getting too deep into the sleep cycle can have negative effects.
  • Exercise frequently. A bout of exercise in the evening or morning will certainly enhance your quality of sleep.

Sleep helps you live longer, perform at work and even makes you thinner. Test the theory for yourself.