How many times have you thought, “There are just not enough hours in the day?” You are certainly not alone, because most of us have days that are jam packed with activities which include work, family, and other responsibilities which must be accomplished before nightfall. But all too often, our sleep is cut short as a sacrifice to other tasks.

We must learn to fall in love with our sleep, since within it are precious benefits which no other body function can duplicate. Below are some reminders of the gifts which sleep contain which keep us happy, healthy, and whole. We will also cover the consequences of consistent short sleep. The subjects include:

  1. The mechanics of sleep
  2. Your dreams
  3. Consequences of short sleep
  4. How to sleep better

The Mechanics of Sleep

Sleep is a requirement which the body needs on a regular basis; it is not a luxury. Sleep is basically a recurring, altered state of the mind and consciousness. When you sleep, your sensory activity and most voluntary muscles are inhibited. You have little or no interaction with others when you sleep.

Sleep is controlled by a hormone called melatonin. It aids in controlling your sleep and awake cycles. When you are asleep, your body temperature decreases.Melatonin lowers your body temperatures which help you to sleep by deleting blood vessels in your body so heat can be dissipated through its surface. Although Melatonin can be found in certain foods, most people are highly deficient in this hormone. Some people use natural supplements to replace the Melatonin in their bodies.

The amount of sleep you need depends on your unique set of circumstances such as your age. It is widely accepted that children and teenagers need more sleep than adults. Sleep comes to us in stages, the deepest is the first third stage of sleep. The last third of our sleeping is when we dream.

Your Dreams

If you get proper rest, don’t take medications or use alcohol, you can assume that you dream, especially if your body has a sufficient amount of melatonin. If given enough sleep time, everyone has dreams, but many people don’t remember them unless they are awakened by the dream.

Dreams occur during the fifth stage of sleep known as REM (rapid eye movement) sleep. During REM sleep, your brain is more active, but your muscles become relaxed. Voluntary muscles, like your arms and legs, become paralyzed. Involuntary muscles, like the heart, continue to move.

Dreams have a direct relationship to your emotional healing. Dreams come from within the active brain, which has been compared to the stomach. Just as the stomach assimilates and digests the food we eat, dreams do the same with information we process.

The reason why you need sufficient sleep is because the stages of sleep cycle throughout the night. Some people with insomnia do go to sleep, but wake up in the middle of the night and cannot go back to sleep. This causes dream deprivation, which can be a serious condition, since dreaming and sleep serve to consolidate memory, as seen in conditions like Alzheimer’s and dementia.

Consequences of Short Sleep

You need sleep just as you need to breathe and to eat food. When you sleep, your body is preparing and repairing your mind and body to function properly the next day. In children, sleep releases growth hormones as they sleep. Sleep is also instrumental in puberty development.

Sleep deprivation, or short sleep, disturbs the functionality of the brain. Poor sleep quality and insufficient rest have a negative effect on your emotional state and cognitive abilities. If you awake still feeling sleepy, yawning and irritable, you probably have not had the restorative sleep your body needs.

We all have occasional nights when work, family, or even our own thoughts have kept us from getting quality sleep. We might fight falling asleep during the next day, even trying coffee or cola to keep us awake. But if short sleep is a chronic condition that is not treated, it can lead to serious health issues, such as:

  • Blood sugar issues like impaired glucose tolerance and insulin resistance
  • Weight gain caused by increased hunger
  • Inability to concentrate, make decisions, and learn
  • A compromised immune system
  • Respiratory, cardiovascular, and digestive dysfunctions

There is an increase in mortality rate associated with sleep deprivation. People with chronic illnesses such as lupus, and certain mental or emotional illnesses are especially susceptible to the effects of short sleep. Additionally, people who don’t get enough sleep may develop a pattern of micro sleep, or short bursts of falling asleep for a few seconds. This can prove fatal, especially if the individual is behind the wheel of a car when they occur.

How to Sleep Better

Quality sleep, dreams, and REM dreaming do so much to improve the body’s performance, appearance and immunity. If you have trouble sleeping, the first step is to see your healthcare professional to diagnose (and possibly treat) any physical or mental issues that may be the cause.

If you have a clean bill of health and still need help getting quality sleep, there are some things you can do to help. Starting during the day, limit the amount of caffeine you drink so that you are less stimulated at bedtime. Although it may be tempting, resist the urge to take naps, especially after noon.

Eat foods that contain natural substances that help you sleep like walnuts, almonds, seeds, banana, spinach, kale, hummus, chamomile or lemon balm tea. Prepare for a good night’s sleep by not overeating in the late evening so your stomach won’t have to work so hard through the night. Set a sleep schedule and stick to it, even during the weekend.

Make sure your bedroom is not keeping you awake at night. Turn off electronics, make sure your bed is comfortable, and cover your clock as you try to doze off. Doing quiet meditation and/or relaxation techniques, such as yoga, will help put you in a calmer state of mind which should help you power down and give in to slumber.

Each day, look for ways to increase the quality of your life with sound sleeping habits. Make getting the proper amount of rest a priority in your waking hours to ensure your sleeping hours are sufficient enough to keep you healthy.

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