Health and Fitness: The importance of a good night’s sleep

01/10/2011 11:58 AM |

Ah, sweet sleep! For the fortunate, a good night’s sleep comes easily, tossing and turning is unfamiliar and sweet dreams flourish. As soon as your head hits the pillow you’re out like a light, sleep like a baby and wake up well rested. How did you sleep last night? Like a rock!

But for others, these cliches are, shall we say, a dream and no laughing matter. Living in a 24/7 society with financial worries; job stress; the Internet, e-mail and cell phones beckoning; increasing demands on our time; a host of everyday apprehensions and actual sleep disorders, a good night’s sleep has become an elusive goal for some 30 to 40 million people — one with serious consequences.

Sleep Matters
Sleep affects how we look, feel and perform on a daily basis and can have a major impact on our overall quality of life. Sleep is not a luxury, it is a necessity. Chronic sleep deprivation significantly affects one’s well-being and people who do not get enough sleep are at greater risk for a number of diseases and health problems. Interestingly, many of us are sleep deprived without knowing it. According to most experts — and despite the claims of such high-powered personalities as Martha Stewart — six hours or less of sleep a night is not enough. (See “How Much Sleep Do We Need” for optimal sleep hours.)

Lack of sleep has consequences that go way beyond just “feeling drowsy.” If you go about your day feeling energetic and alert, you are probably meeting your sleep needs. However, you are probably lacking sleep if you are showing any of the following signs or symptoms:

• Irritability, moodiness
• Inability to cope with stress
• Weight gain
• Fatigue, lethargy
• Social ineptness
• Memory loss
• Inability to concentrate
• Frequent colds and infections
• More errors at work
• Reduced efficiency and productivity
• Accidents
• Impaired judgment
• Reduced coordination and reaction time

Sleep and Chronic Diseases
The cost of insufficient sleep is much greater than people realize. Studies have shown that people who consistently fail to get adequate sleep are at greater risk for chronic disease. Interest in the role of sleep in the development and management of chronic diseases has grown, as these diseases have assumed an increasingly common role in premature death and illness. Notably, insufficient sleep has been linked to the development and management of a number of chronic diseases and conditions, including:

• Diabetes
• Cardiovascular disease
• Obesity
• Depression

Treating sleep as a priority may be an important step in preventing a number of these chronic medical conditions.
Sleep Disorders

While most of us lose sleep occasionally for a variety of reasons, many suffer from sleep disorders that profoundly affect their ability to get a good night’s sleep. Some of the major sleep disorders are:

• Insomnia—The most common disorder, characterized by an inability to initiate or maintain sleep.
• Narcolepsy—Excessive daytime sleepiness combined with sudden muscle weakness. The sudden muscle weakness seen in narcolepsy may be elicited by strong emotion or surprise. Episodes of narcolepsy have been described as “sleep attacks” and may occur in unusual circumstances, such as walking and other forms of physical activity.
• Restless Leg Syndrome (RLS)—RLS is characterized by an unpleasant “creeping” sensation, often feeling like it is originating in the lower legs, but often associated with aches and pains throughout the legs.
• Sleep Apnea—Snoring may be more than just an annoying habit; it may be a symptom of sleep apnea. People with sleep apnea characteristically make periodic gasping or “snorting” noises, during which their sleep is momentarily interrupted.

A sleep disorder can affect your overall health, safety and quality of life. With accurate diagnosis, doctors can treat most sleep disorders effectively.

Early to bed and early to rise makes a man healthy, wealthy, and wise.
—Benjamin Franklin

Benjamin Franklin got it right. Getting a good night’s sleep, night after night, is restorative and vital to overall good health and well-being. Studies have shown that without enough sleep, a person’s ability to perform even simple tasks declines dramatically. Sleep affects how we look, feel and perform on a daily basis.

Make sleep a priority. Just as you schedule time for work and other commitments, you should schedule enough time for sleep. Instead of cutting back on sleep in order to tackle the rest of your daily tasks, put sleep at the top of your to-do list.
The average person spends one-third of their lives sleeping. Far from being “wasted time,” sleep plays a direct role in how full, energetic and successful the other two-thirds of our lives can be.

Sweet dreams!
General sources: webmd.com, cdc.gov/sleep, mayoclinic.org

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