Get Some Sleep

When was the last time you felt truly rested? Was it after a week of vacation last summer? Or, maybe when a snow day gave you the chance to sleep until you awoke without the alarm. Perhaps it was last Saturday when your spouse took the kids to a movie and you stole a long, afternoon nap…Wait, that’s not you. You checked e-mail and caught up on laundry instead. If you’re like too many of us, you may not be able to remember the last time you weren’t tired. Of course, the fatigue you probably feel right now (hopefully not because of this article) is a result of ignoring your need for seven to eight hours of sleep each night. Four hours most nights and a drowsy weekend on the couch don’t cut it. Sleep is one of the most basic needs for all animals and those of us with opposable thumbs are no exception. A lack of sleep, just like a lack of water and food, will kill you (or make you want to die).

The sleep cycle consists of five stages, which culminate in REM (rapid eye movement). Once you reach REM sleep you drift up and down the stages of sleep throughout the night. During REM you dream about flying, Halle Berry or playing on stage with Bruce Springsteen. Fun, yes, but it is during the third and fourth stages that human growth hormone (keeps you young), melatonin (may protect against cancer) and other hormones essential to bodily repair and function are released. However, if your sleep is frequently interrupted or too brief, you may not experience these stages enough to reap the benefits.

Obviously, the main benefit of getting enough sleep is fewer visits to your favorite caffeine pusher, er…barista. You will also reduce your risk factors for heart disease, stroke and overeating. While in sleep stages three and four, leptin and gherlin, which regulate appetite, are balanced. Consequently, there’s less chance of you mistaking your need for 40 winks with a desire for chocolate.

When you eat better you are healthier, and this works in concert with a reduction in your stress levels, blood pressure and cholesterol, which drastically reduces your risk for disease of all sorts, even cancer. A good night’s sleep will also raise your serotonin levels, reducing your chances of becoming depressed. If now you are depressed about your lack of sleep try these tips to enhance the quality of your zzzz’s:

  1. Make your bedroom cool and dark, which tells your pineal gland to increase melatonin production and send you to dreamland.
  2. Your bed is for two things: sleep and sexy time. Get rid of the laptop, the tv and the Wii, all of which stimulate your brain and keep you awake. Besides, people without a tv in the bedroom have 50 percent more sex than those of you watching Conan. It’s science.
  3. White noise from a fan or white noise machine drowns out the little interruptions on your descent to REM like the neighbor’s dog, the kid with the thumping, car stereo or your spouse’s snoring.
  4. Wear loose, cool clothing because your body warms during the night and you will awaken if you are too hot.
  5. Try to maintain a set wake up time. Even if you had a rough night last night and want to sleep later, tough it out and go to bed a little earlier tonight. This helps reset you circadian rhythms, making sleep easier.

You’ve awaken to the benefits of sleep. As vital as regular exercise and a healthy diet are to your overall well-being, sleep is vital if you want to reap the benefits. Now, get some sleep.

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