Counting Sheep: Why Sleep is Critical for Good Health

“Sleep is such a luxury, which I can’t afford.” Robin Sikarwar

For most people, one of the first sentiments of the day to a partner or to children is asking the simple question, “How did you sleep?” We give a lot of importance to this daily greeting, but if we are unable to say “I slept great!” or “I feel so rested!” perhaps we should take note of what our bodies may be telling us.

Good quality sleep is vital to many aspects of our daily lives. It can affect our immune systems, our response to pain, our ability to concentrate, anxiety and depression levels, hormone levels, athletic recovery and may even increase certain health risks. Sleep deprivation has been linked to increased risk for obesity, Alzheimer’s Disease, Type 2 Diabetes and stroke.

For those with chronic pain, anxiety and depression, sleep deprivation can exacerbate many of the symptoms that people struggle with. According to a recent UC Berkley study published in the Journal of Neuroscience, disruptions in sleep cycles can decrease the body’s own ability to produce its own analgesic effects, and meanwhile increase sensitivity to pain.This can result in a vicious cycle; pain can interrupt sleep, but prolonged disrupted sleep can increase pain in the body.

The current recommendations for sleep are 7-9 hours for adults, and 10-12 for children and teens. Without hitting that restful slumber, our energy levels can be sapped, anxiety levels can surge, and our general mental health and well-being can be diminished. Stress and anxiety can work as much of a negative cycle with sleep patterns just as much as chronic pain does.

It has been reported by the National Institute of Health that 70 million Americans (of all age groups) are dealing with chronic sleep issues.

In some cases, people are getting the recommended levels of sleep, but they are still finding themselves groggy during the day. At times these can be due to other underlying causes, such as sleep apnea, narcolepsy, reactions to certain medications or other internal imbalances. Migraines and cluster headaches are also often triggered by a lack of consistent, quality sleep.

Often we think that we can “catch up” on any missed sleep during periods of increased stress, but this is not the case. During the night, our body is performing many processes. Our organs do not shut down, but work through the night to regulate our breathing, metabolism, hormonal balances and immune response. When these processes are disrupted, the body is unable to efficiently work to maintain a healthy and balanced system. Those particularly sensitive to inflammation and depression can be hit really hard by these dysregulations.

Our ability to concentrate and retain information can be deeply affected by sleep disruptions, and we can get sick more frequently as well.

In a society where we are very dependent on electronic devices, it can be more difficult to achieve restful slumber. We live in a time when we are constantly pressed for time, and it can become difficult to prioritize quality sleep.

Here are some ideas to add to daily routines to help achieve more nights of consistent rest:

  • Exercise daily
  • Take time to unwind without electronic devices before bedtime
  • Avoid caffeine and excess stimulation close to bedtime
  • Keep the bed only for sleep and sleep-related activities (leave the laptop and Kindle for outside the bedroom). Make the bedroom an oasis for relaxation
  • Try meditation if you have difficulty clearing your mind

Another avenue to reducing stress and helping to increase feelings of restful well-being is also receiving massage therapy. Massage has been studied for it’s beneficial effects of reducing stress, and alleviating anxiety and depression. By decreasing stress, it can promote a more restful night’s sleep. Plus, it just feels great!

Good quality sleep may seem like a luxury, but it truly is a requirement for the body that is critical to long-term health.

Want more Info? Try the following links:

Sleep loss heightens pain sensitivity, dulls brain’s painkilling response

National Sleep Foundation

Symbiosis of Headaches and Sleep

Why We Sleep, Matthew Walker, PhD

The association of sleep and pain: An update and a path forward

Can You Make Up For Lost Sleep? And How Much Is Losing Sleep Hurting You In The First Place?

10 Reasons Why Good Sleep is Important

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