Sleep-An Essential Part Of A Healthy Life

Sleep-An Essential Part Of A Healthy Life

Experts say one of the MOST alluring sleep distractions is the 24-hour accessibility of the internet! So I will try and keep this one a little shorter.

Sleep, and how it relates to the way we function as a species, is one of the biggest mysteries in the human body. There is no concrete definition for why humans sleep. Humans are among the few animals that take their sleep in one shot. The rest of the animal kingdom consists of polyphasic sleepers; they alternate sleep and wake cycles throughout a 24 hour period. However, one thing is for sure, sleep is an essential part of life. When we sleep, the body releases hormones which fix damaged tissues throughout the body and help restore us to a balanced state. Listed below are just some of the effects we get from sleep or lack of sleep.

  • Sleep reduces the body’s amount of stress hormones.
  • Sleep adjusts the hormones in our body that control appetite and boosts the immune system.
  • Being sleep deprived impairs daytime alertness and memory; it can lead to mood problems such as anxiety or sadness and promotes obesity and diabetes.
  • Sleep and weight gain; research shows how metabolic changes, that occur due to loss of productive sleep, may alter your sense of hunger, thus making you want to eat more. According to sleep expert Michael Breus PHD, people who stay up late and sleep late also tend to eat more fast food and consume more of their calories after 8pm as compared to normal sleepers. Most studies show the more you eat after 8pm the higher your body mass index and body fat levels will be.
  • Sleep helps boost testosterone levels in men. Research has shown that this nightly testosterone replenishment is most effective (and morning testosterone levels are highest) in men getting 8 or more hours of sleep.
  • Insufficient sleep increases the risk of diabetes, high blood pressure, and coronary artery disease. In fact, a study from 2008 demonstrated that those who slept longer, had a lower likelihood of coronary artery disease. (the risk reduction was 33% per hour of sleep, equivalent to the risk reduction of lowering your blood pressure by 16.5 mmHg!).

How much do we need?

The generic recommendation for the amount of sleep a night is generally 7-9 hours for adults. However, sleep requirements are based on a wide range of factors like age, sex, immune systems, will power, activity levels, and many others. This is an important issue because as a society we are chronically sleep-deprived. Some studies suggest the average US adult gets less than 7 hours of sleep a night and more than one-third of adults report daytime sleepiness so severe that it interferes with work or social functioning for at least a few days each month.

Sleep recommendations

  • Try and stay away from the computer, phone, and TV before bed-The blue light emitted by these devices stimulate your brain making it harder to fall asleep. Most sleep experts recommend giving up screen time for at least 1-2 hours before bed.
  • Evaluate your sleep hygiene-Avoid watching TV, eating, or working in bed. Make the bedroom a sanctuary for sleep. Keep the temperature a few degrees cooler than the rest of the house and hide bedroom clocks so you’re not constantly checking the time as you try to fall asleep.
  • Get active -Thirty minutes of exercise each day (at least 5 to 6 hours before bedtime) will help you get more restful sleep at night.
  • Avoid triggers-Caffeine, alcohol, nicotine, and large meals before bedtime, can disrupt your ability to fall asleep and remain asleep throughout the night. Though many people use alcohol to get to sleep initially, alcohol actually compromises the quality of sleep you get overnight.
  • Get into a routine– This will help your body know when to sleep and is much more efficient to your overall daily schedule.

The science

When you sleep, your body rests and restores its energy levels. However, sleep is an active state that affects both your physical and mental well-being. A good night’s sleep is often the best way to help you cope with stress, solve problems, or recover from illness. Sleep is prompted by natural cycles of activity in the brain and consists of two basic states: rapid eye movement (REM) sleep and non-REM (NREM) sleep, which consists of 4 stages.

During sleep, the body cycles between non-REM and REM sleep. Typically, people begin the sleep cycle with a period of non-REM sleep followed by a very short period of REM sleep. Vivid dreams tend to occur during REM sleep. A normal person will spend approximately 25 percent of the night in REM sleep.

What not to do
Make up for all your lost time during the week on weekends-No, you can’t just pay off a sleep debt by sleeping late on the weekends. Why would you want to waste your off days by laying in bed and doing nothing anyways? Go out and celebrate the weekend and be active.
Bank on naps-Naps don’t make up for loss of restorative sleep time because they are usually shorter than the time you need to reach slow-wave or REM sleep(usually requires 60-90 minutes on uninterrupted sleep). You need both rapid-eye-movement sleep and slow-wave sleep to feel refreshed, and these two kinds of sleep require a period of continuous sleep before they start. However, naps can give you more short-term energy and a feeling of alertness. Depending on length, they have also been shown to help memory and decision making skills.
Researchers have determined that naps provide the best health benefits when they are:

  • About 30 minutes long
  • Taken at around 3:00 in the afternoon or 8 hours after you wake up
  • No more than once a day
Sleep Positions (recommended by

1. The Best: Back position

Good for: Preventing neck and back pain, reducing acid reflux, and minimizing wrinkles.

Bad for: Snoring

The scoop: Sleeping on your back makes it easy for your head, neck, and spine to maintain a neutral position. You’re not forcing any extra curves into your back, says Steven Diamant, a chiropractor in New York City. It’s also ideal for fighting acid reflux, says Eric Olson, M.D., co-director of the Mayo Clinic Center for Sleep Medicine in Rochester, Minnesota: “If the head is elevated, your stomach will be below your esophagus so acid or food can’t come back up.”

Back-sleeping also helps prevent wrinkles, because nothing is pushing against your face, notes Dee Anna Glaser, M.D., a professor of dermatology at Saint Louis University. And the weight of your breasts is fully supported, reducing sagginess.

Consider this: “Snoring is usually most frequent and severe when sleeping on the back,” Olson says.

Perfect pillow: One puffy one. The goal is to keep your head and neck supported without propping your head up too much.

2. Next Best: Side position (pictured above)

Good for: Preventing neck and back pain, reducing acid reflux, snoring less, sleeping during pregnancy

Bad for: Your skin and your breasts

The scoop: Side-sleeping is great for overall health — it reduces snoring and keeps your spine elongated. If you suffer from acid reflux, this is the next best thing to sleeping on your back.

Now for the downside: “Sleeping on your side can cause you to get wrinkles,” Glaser says. Blame all that smushing of one side of your face into the pillow.

Consider this: If you’re pregnant, sleep on your left side. It’s ideal for blood flow.

Perfect pillow: A thick one. “You need to fill the space above your shoulder so your head and neck are supported in a neutral position,” says Ken Shannon, a physical therapist at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston

3.The Worst: Stomach position

Good for: Easing snoring

Bad for: Avoiding neck and back pain and minimizing wrinkles.

The scoop: “Stomach-sleeping makes it difficult to maintain a neutral position with your spine,” Shannon explains. What’s more, the pose puts pressure on joints and muscles, which can irritate nerves and lead to pain, numbness, and tingling.

“Think about the soreness you’d feel if you kept your neck turned to one side for 15 minutes during the day,” Diamant explains. In this position you have your head to one side for hours at a time. You won’t necessarily feel it the next day, but you may soon start to ache.

Consider this: Do you snore? “Stomach-sleeping may even be good for you,” Olson says. Facedown keeps your upper airways more open. So if you snore and aren’t suffering from neck or back pain, it’s fine to try sleeping on your belly.

Perfect pillow: Just one (and make it a thin one) or none at all.


This was a tough topic to cover because of the wide range of information and studies available coupled with the variance in opinions by top professionals. If there is one thing I have found it is there is no “right” or “wrong” way to sleep. If you are someone who feels perfectly rested and has no daytime consequences on 6 1/2 to 7 hours of sleep per night, and are unable to extend your sleep beyond this period, then you should not be striving to sleep 8 hours/night. Equally so, if you sleep 8 hours/night but are still sleepy during the day, you may not be fulfilling your nightly requirements or may need a daytime cat nap. The take home message is: You need what you need. Each individual is different. Experiment with some different sleep schedules and positions to see what works best for you and implement those practices in a sleep routine. Thanks for reading. Let me know if you have any questions or comments.