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Getting Enough Sleep

Sleep is to our bodies what being at the mechanic is to vehicles. When we sleep our body's internal systems get repaired. When we are conscious and physically active our tissues, organs, and organ systems are fully engaged in helping us carry out our daily functions. When we are asleep however, our bodies are unconscious and inactive, and this allows our internals to interact with each other in different modes so as to repair and rejuvenate our systems.

Sleep is probably one of the least medically understood human activities, and the fact that approximately 25% of our life is spent in this unconscious state must mean that it has more functional significance than most of us think. Sleep can be divided into light, deep (slow wave) and rapid eye movement (REM) sleep phases. All of us cycle through these phases of sleep several times each night. The early part of the sleep phase is highlighted by increased time spent in slow wave sleep while the later part is highlighted by more time spent in REM sleep.

As we age, we do require less sleep; however, we tend to retain the same amount of total REM sleep - except for when we are very elderly. As we age, we do spend less sleep time in slow wave sleep. The amount of time spent in slow wave sleep drops impetuously during the first twenty (20) years of life. This latter point probably is very significant since it is known that many of our anabolic hormones like growth hormone and DHEA (dehydroepiandrosterone) get secreted during slow wave sleep.

REM and slow wave sleep are the most essential stages of sleep: Most of our physiological restoration occurs during deep slow wave sleep. The brain and body must recover after the day's challenges and stressors. Muscle and other cellular proliferative processes occur during this stage of sleep in part because of these ever so important hormones. REM sleep is physiologically very active and not very dissimilar from the wakeful state. It is thought that consolidation of memory and learning occur during this stage of sleep.

Getting enough sleep is not a luxury and should not be treated as such; it is a necessity if you are to remain in great health. Our vital organs that are working when we are active need to be inactive and at rest, so that they can be properly repaired. Everyone's sleep requirements vary, but for an average healthy adult, six (6) to eight (8) hours of nightly sleep should be sufficient to have his body repaired and ready to function normally. In our fast paced, technologically advanced society many of us are sleep deprived.

Dangers of Sleep Deprivation

Sleep deprivation is dangerous and takes its toll in many ways. Sleep-deprived people who are tested by using a driving simulator or by performing a hand-eye coordination task, perform as badly as, or worse than those who are intoxicated. Sleep deprivation also magnifies alcohol's effects on the body, so a fatigued person who drinks will become much more impaired than someone who is well-rested. When you are sleep deprived, you are more likely to lose your sense of humor, control of your emotions, and be depressed and ultimately get sick. It can also be deadly. Driving while drowsy is responsible for more than 70,000 accidents a year, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

Getting too little sleep creates a "sleep debt," which is much like being overdrawn at a bank. Eventually, your body will demand that the debt be repaid. We do seem to adapt to getting less sleep than we need and while we may get used to a sleep-depriving schedule, our judgment, reaction time, and other functions are still impaired. We are generally very poor at estimating how sleepy we are or how close we are to falling asleep, and because of this, we are constantly in jeopardy of creating a tragic accident as sleep debt will always win in the end.

Signs You Are Sleep Deprived

Struggling to stay awake when inactive, such as when watching TV or reading.

Needing an alarm clock consistently to wake you up

Having difficulty remembering or concentrating

Sleeping long hours on weekends and yet waking up groggy

Bumping into things and having difficulty composing yourself

Getting excessively irritable

Feeling tired when waking up each day

Tips to help

Establish a bedtime and waking schedule and stick to it

Exercise at least three (3) hours before bedtime

Try a relaxing routine - like a hot bath, before going to bed

Drink less liquid before going to bed

Consume less or no caffeine before bedtime

Avoid nicotine

Avoid alcohol

Sleep is a necessity. The benefits of getting adequate sleep should be taken full advantage of. Do not compromise your body's natural defenses and immune system. Make every effort to give your body what is fundamentally essential to every area of your being.

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