Written by Stacey Taggart, Contributing Writer

The importance of getting a good night’s sleep is understated in our busy society.  The expectations that we have of ourselves and others are increasing, and in an effort to do all and be all, we end up burning the candle at both ends.

Being deprived of sleep is very detrimental to us physically, mentally, emotionally, and even spiritually.

“Sleep isn’t a luxury… It’s a biological necessity!” – Unknown

The Benefits of Sleep

We know what a lack of sleep can do to a child.  An overtired child is cranky, irritable and inconsolable.  And we all know how we feel when we don’t get enough sleep, but we may not know how important sleep really is for our bodies, minds and souls.

Sleep is restorative, rejuvenating and regenerative :: Every part of the body benefits from – and requires – sleep.  The body’s ability to rebuild itself during sleep is amazing!  Damage is repaired on the cellular level during deep sleep stages. Sleep is your body’s opportunity to restore itself from the effects of stress, toxins, ultraviolet rays and other harmful exposures that occur during the day.

Sleep reduces illness and disease :: Due to our body’s ability to rebuild itself, the immune system greatly depends on sleep to function.  With other systems of the body in rest mode, the immune system can go to work fighting and protecting.  With a lack of sleep also comes a depressed immune system allowing harmful germs and exposures to wreak havoc on our systems.

Sleep reduces stress :: As we prepare for sleep, our body releases the calming hormones, serotonin and melatonin.  These hormones help us relax and also cause the stress hormones, adrenaline and cortisol, to deplete, reducing the stress our bodies feel.

In contrast, being sleep deprived puts our body in a state of stress as it releases the stress hormones so that it can function under those less-than-ideal circumstances.Having these hormones being pumped through our body too frequently is extremely detrimental to our health.  When we sleep, we give our body and minds the opportunity to rest and restore from the day and adjust and balance hormone levels.

Sleep can help control weight :: When our hormone levels are out of balance from lack of sleep, it increases our appetite, making us eat more than we would if we weren’t sleepy.  There is also concern that lack of sleep changes the way our body digests carbohydrates, which can cause weight gain.

Sleep improves memory function
:: While our body is resting, our brain is working!  When we sleep, our brain analyzes the events of the past day, making connections and creating links.  These links become our memories!  By getting sufficient quality sleep, we are giving our brain the opportunity it needs to process and commit new information to memory.

Sleep = Safety ::  Brain fog caused by lack of sleep can cause car accidents, falls, medical mistakes and much more.  Researchers have found that a sleepy driver behind the wheel is just as dangerous as a drunk driver.

Sleep balances emotions :: Sleeping gives our brain the opportunity to correct and adjust all the hormone and chemical levels that the body requires.  Having proper levels of these vital elements helps us remain balanced and steady throughout the day, with increased ability to handle the day-to-day stresses.  Not getting enough sleep can leave us feeling irritable, irrational and impatient.

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How much is enough?

Research shows that the average adult needs between 7 and 9 hours of sleep per night.  However, the exact amount of sleep that our bodies require is very individualized, varying from person to person.  This can also change rather frequently as we face different situations in our lives that may require more or less sleep.

For example, if you are sick or going through a particularly stressful period of time, you need to allow for more sleep.  Children, teenagers and the elderly, as a rule, need more sleep than healthy adults.

Experts say that finding the right amount of sleep requires a little experimentation. By varying your bedtimes and wake times, you can find the right amount of sleep that leaves you feeling well rested and energized throughout the day.

As your situation and circumstances change, you might need to adjust your sleep times to allow enough time for adaquate sleep, without sleeping too much.  Sleeping too much can be just as detrimental to your health and well being as being sleep deprived, so find the right balance that works for you.

“A satisfying sleep, like a satisfying meal, can leave one happy and content, without feeling too full, and with room, perhaps, for just a little more.” – Jim Horne, sleep expert

That’s great, you might be thinking, but I can’t sleep!  Far too often, sleeping is not as simple as it sounds.

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8 tips to help you get your zzz’s

Make sleep a priority :: Look at sleep as the restorative period that it is rather than an inconvenient obligation.  Give your mind, body and soul the opportunity to rest and rejuvenate.

Establish a routine :: Bedtime routines aren’t just for children.  Try to go to bed at the same time each night and wake up at the same time each morning, regardless of the day of the week or if you’ve had a rough night’s sleep.  Wake up within 30 minutes of your waking time each day of the week.  This will help your body clock set itself correctly.

Relax :: Can’t sleep?  We’re not able to will ourselves or make ourselves go to sleep.  We need to lie down, close our eyes and relax, waiting for sleep to overtake us.  But the relaxing part of that equation often fouls up the entire formula.  Drink a cup of chamomile tea or warm milk, take a warm bath or read a book for a few minutes before turning off the light.  Give yourself time to slow down and unwind, letting your body know it’s time to prepare for sleep.

Add a mind purge :: When I can’t sleep because I’ve got too much on my mind, I’ve found that simply having a pad of paper and a pen by my bed comes in handy.  Thoughts, plans and worries can often interfere with our ability to relax and fall asleep.  Write down everything that comes to mind in a 1 to 3 minute period.  As simple as it sounds, it will enable you to free your mind of those thoughts and avoid carrying them to bed with you.  With less on your mind, you are free to relax and drift off to sleep. 

Body movin’:: Getting some form of physical activity during the day will help your body differentiate between daytime and nighttime, making it easier to get to sleep and stay asleep when you want to.  Avoid strenuous exercise and activity within 4 hours of going to bed so your body will be able to relax in time for sleep.

Eat well and wisely :: Ditch the Standard American Diet and eat real food.  Make your noon meal the largest of the day rather than your biggest meal being a few hours before you are going to try to sleep.  Digesting a large meal will keep you awake and unable to drift off to sleep.

Make your bedroom a restful place :: Keep your bedroom free from unnecessary clutter and distractions.  Remove the TV and designate another area of your house for your desk and computer (or put them behind doors if they must stay in your room) so as to free your mind from thinking about work and other things.

Limit caffeine (or better yet, quit it all together) :: Use coffee, pop, caffeinated teas and even chocolate in moderation.  Caffeine is a powerful stimulant.  Even if you only drink caffeine in the mornings, it makes it more difficult to fall asleep at night and affects the quality of sleep that you are able to get.  It is difficult to quit (I know! I used to be a Diet Coke junkie.) but it’s worth it.  Check this out for inspiration!

If you can’t get going in the mornings without your cup of joe, try Dandelion Root tea as a worthy coffee alternative.  Do the same only make iced tea as a replacement for Diet Pop!  Dandelion Root tea sounds odd perhaps, but it’s yummy!

What about those less-than-ideal nights?

Unfortunately, we all know the frustration of a short night’s sleep. Whether it’s a new baby, sick kids, noisy neighbors or irritating insomnia, we’ve all been there. Here are two tips for surviving those terrible nights:

Don’t worry :: The stress and anxiety over getting a poor night’s sleep will actually be harder on you mentally and physically than the poor night’s sleep itself. Practice an attitude of acceptance and go about your day. Try to remain as positive and optimistic as possible and you’ll get through a less-than-ideal day much more ideally!

Strategic naps will save you :: Even if you’re not necessarily a nap taker, a strategic nap will help you get through your day, minimizing your struggle from a poor night’s sleep.  Getting a 10 – 20 minute nap (or two, if necessary, one in the morning and one in the afternoon) will help you feel refreshed and energized, ready for the next portion of your day.  Be careful, however.  Napping anywhere from 30 minutes to 2 hours puts your body through sleep cycles that will cause you to wake up feeling groggy and perhaps worse than you felt before.  Aim for the power nap to get you through your day.

We all know how wonderful we feel after a great night’s sleep, and unfortunately, we all know how terrible we feel when we sleep poorly.  In our fast-paced, over-worked and stressed-out society, getting a good night’s sleep is crucial.  Our bodies, minds and souls depend on our ability to sleep for rejuvenation, repair and restoration.

Make a New Year’s Resolution to make sleep a priority this year! Your mind and body will thank you.

What tips do you have for getting a great night’s sleep? How do you make sleep a priority?

Top image by pedrosimoes7

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