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Sleep; Why is it so important?

Having trouble sleeping?  You are not alone.

It is estimated that a startling two-thirds of Australians complain of sleep issues.

I have found in practice, that sleep is one of the most crucial pillars of health. If someone is consistently having trouble with their sleep, it very commonly starts to hinder many aspects of their overall well-being. And vice versa. I highly recommend paying close attention to the quality of your sleep.  It is an excellent gauge and insight into your current health and environment and can be an early warning sign if things are starting to go amiss.

Despite being one of the most popular health topics, many people still remain uncertain of what constitutes a good sleep and why it is important. I thought I would share a few key aspects in relation to both of these points.

Why is it important?

  1. Improved moods – how well we sleep is intimately connected to our emotional health. Prolonged sleep deprivation has been shown to increase irritability and anger and has been closely linked to mental health conditions such as anxiety and depression.

  2. Improved mood function – especially important during these times, restorative sleep has been shown to greatly enhance our immune function. One study showed those that slept less than 7 hours at night were nearly 3 times more likely to develop a cold than those sleeping 8 hours or more.

  3. Less tendency for weight gain – a regular lack of sleep has been associated with irregular blood sugar levels, weight gain and obesity.

  4. Enhanced mental and physical performance – a lack of sleep negatively impacts memory, concentration levels and stifles creativity. Negatively affecting productivity and performance in both academic and physical pursuits.

  5. Reduces the risk for chronic health conditions – prolonged sleep deficiency has been linked to a myriad of chronic health conditions such as type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease and stroke.

What constitutes a good sleep?

Ideally, as an adult, you want to be sleeping for around 7-8 hours per night. Adolescents and children will naturally need more. But it is not simply about duration. The quality of your sleep is also very important. Both the rapid eye movement (REM) and deep stages of sleep are crucial for feeling on top of your game throughout the day. You want to be ideally not waking up more than twice during the night and are able to fall back to sleep with ease. Ultimately the best measurement of a good sleep, is how you feel upon waking. You know you have mastered it if you are jumping out of bed, ready to greet the day!

If you are still struggling to uncover the underlying causes of your poor sleep, please just let me know. There are many tools I have found very useful over the years in helping people modify their sleeping habits. In the meantime, happy slumbers!

Alex Shaw is a Naturopath at the Lotus Centre

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