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Good Sleep is a Critical Component in Achieving Good Health

Sleep is essential for good health. We all know that we have more energy and feel more functional when we are sleeping well, but there are other health benefits that are not so obvious and well known. During National Sleep Awareness Week, it’s a good time to stop and think about how important sleep is to our overall health.

Nearly half of all Americans report that they have trouble falling and/or staying asleep, and women more than men. Sleep is seen by some as something you do only when you cannot possibly stay awake another minute. Consider these benefits of sleep and problems that can result from inadequate sleep, and realize that sleep needs to be an important part of your life

Benefits of Good Sleep
Sleep provides an extended relaxation period for our muscles, which helps to balance not only the physical activity we engage in every day but also the subtle strain on our muscles caused by stress. That’s valuable even if we operate at a fairly low stress level, and critical if we live with chronic stress.

Sleep is when our bodies heal. They may need to heal from disease or injury, but cells die every day and can be damaged by oxidation or wear-and-tear, and they need to be replenished or replaced with healthy cells. That in itself is work our body can best conduct when we are in the resting mode.

We regenerate neurons when we sleep, neurons that transmit nerve impulses and that are necessary for mental, physical and emotional health. And we restore our chemical balance during sleep.

Sleep strengthens our immune system. When we are well rested, we are better able to resist infections, have less severe reactions to allergens, and have more support for any auto-immune issue we may be facing.

Adequate sleep helps with weight management. Sleep helps us to maintain balance in our hormones, which helps prevent weight gain and contributes to normal sex drive and reproductive health.

Negative Impacts of Inadequate Sleep
Physical. Some consequences of insufficient sleep are obvious, like feeling generally fatigued and suffering through sleepy spells. We tend to be more accident-prone when we haven’t been sleeping well, as our concentration and sense of balance can be diminished. Extreme or prolonged sleep deprivation can even lead to erratic nerve function, which can cause tics and balance issues. Reduced neuron production plays a role in these issues.

When we are not getting enough sleep, we can experience higher blood pressure and prolonged periods of elevated adrenaline, both of which can lead to health problems, including cardiovascular issues and diabetes.

Mental and emotional. Although stress can make it more difficult to get to sleep and sleep peacefully, lack of sleep contributes to increased stress and anxiety. This is partly due to physical issues, like diminished neuron production, but can also arise from the inability to perform satisfactorily, due to weakened memory and cognitive function.

Mood is definitely affected by lack of sleep. Think of how much harder it is to face a problem or make a decision when you are tired. Irritability rises as sleep time falls off, and chronic sleep deprivation can result in or intensify mental health issues.

Making Sleep a Priority
The first thing to do in getting good sleep on a regular basis is realizing how incredibly valuable it is to your physical, mental and emotional health, and making it a priority. Establishing a regular bedtime is a good start – and yes, there will be plenty of times when bedtime gets pushed back, but on a day-to-day basis, keeping a specific bedtime that allows you to get adequate rest is a great first step.

Exercise regularly, but doing it earlier in the day may be helpful, as will dealing with stressful situations earlier in the day. Eat a healthy diet. Your body will rest better if it is not craving nutrients it lacks.

Although late night snacks can be tempting, don’t eat too much close to bedtime – your body needs the time to rest, not digest! In other words, all those things that get you fired up – physically and mentally – should not be indulged in or tackled too close to bedtime.

Ease yourself into rest. Do you like herbal tea? Before bed is a great time to enjoy a cup. It may help to take a few minutes to list things you need to do tomorrow, so you won’t feel the need to keep remembering them and thinking about them when you’re trying to get to sleep.

Sleep is an important element in achieving and maintaining health. Give it the respect and the time it deserves, and you will be greatly rewarded.

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