As little importance as we seem to be giving to the time we spend sleeping, it is as important to our physical and mental health, as nutrition and breathing are!
Your body and brain stay remarkably active throughout the time you are asleep, affecting almost all body functions, including regulating heart rate and blood pressure, improving immunity and disease resistance, healing and rejuvenating of tissues, and also, metabolism and fat loss.
Chronic sleep deprivation can increase the risk of high blood pressure, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, depression, and obesity.
Quality sleep comprises of getting enough of it at the right time, and “sufficient” sleep varies from person to person in different ages and stages in life.
HOW DOES THE BODY GO TO SLEEP?
A special center in the hypothalamus of the brain regulates the circadian rhythm according to signals of light and dark, whilst sleep-promoting cells within the hypothalamus along with other parts of the brain work on muscle relaxation and “Tuning out the world”. They also signal the release of Melatonin (sleep hormone), which typically peaks from 10 pm to 2 pm.
According to the specific brain and neuronal activity, you cycle through several non-REM and REM sleep cycles. The latter part of non-REM cycles is the periods of deep sleep where breathing and heart rate slow down to feel more refreshed after awakening.
WHAT IS SLEEP HYGIENE?
This is a tailor-made concept, encompassing both environment and lifestyle to achieve higher quality sleep, improving overall health.
It is a process where simple alterations in your daily routines and sleeping atmosphere, with practice over a few days, can harness habits to make initiating sleep, involuntary.
HOW TO PRACTICE SLEEP HYGIENE?
- Follow a nightly routine
- Each of us winds down differently but trivial things like brushing our teeth and changing out of work clothes tell the brain it’s bedtime.
- Lowering lights and unplugging from any stimulants like electronics, helps with neuronal pathways of melatonin production.
- Incorporate healthy daily habits.
- Quit smoking – nicotine causes the release of adrenaline, increasing heart rate and blood pressure, stimulating the body, and disrupting sleep.
- Reduce Alcohol consumption – alcohol is a central nervous system depressant and can induce sleep but sleep disturbances are related to the effects of alcohol wearing off and the unpleasant gastric symptoms like gastric reflux.
- Cut down caffeine before bedtime – a cellular energy byproduct named adenosine helps with sleep-drive which is blocked by caffeine to counteract sleepiness.
- Avoid late dinners – large or spicy dinners take time to digest and also can cause gastro-esophageal reflux, making sleep unpleasant.
- Physical exercise – Exercise helps reduce daytime somnolence promoting nighttime sleep. However, strenuous exercises closer to bedtime increases heart rate and core body temperature, adversely affecting sleep.
- Make the crib, comfortable
- The sleep environment with tranquility is a major component of peaceful sleep. This also includes, not carrying your work to bed with you with maybe sex being the only exception!
- A clean, comfortable bed in a calming temperature, shutting out troublesome noises and low lights are pretty inviting after a rough day!
Having said these, some people can have pathological sleep disturbances due to chronic pain, mental health disorders like depression causing insomnia, obesity, and obstructive sleep apnea where good sleep hygiene will be beneficial but won’t alone be helpful. These conditions need medical intervention as treatment.