Sleep is as important to your health as a good diet and a daily exercise routine. Studies confirm that people who suffer from insomnia tend to have a poorer quality of life compared to those who sleep well.
Let’s start by defining sleep…
When you sleep you are unconscious, but your brain and body functions are still active. Sleep is a complex biological process that helps you process new information, stay healthy and feel rested.
During sleep, your brain goes through five different stages: Stage 1, 2, 3, 4 and rapid eye movement (REM) sleep. Different things happen in each stage. For example, you go through different brain wave patterns (patterns of electrical activity in the brain) at each stage. Your breathing, heart rate and temperature may be faster or slower at certain stages. Some sleep phases can help you feel more rested and energetic the next day. The different phases of sleep help you to:
Feel rested and energized the next day.
Learn information, reflect and form memories
Rest your heart and vascular system
Release more growth hormone, which helps children grow. It also increases muscle mass and repair of cells and tissues in children and adults
Releasing sex hormones, which contribute to puberty and fertility
Avoid getting sick or getting better when sick by creating more cytokines (hormones that help the immune system fight various infections).
What is insomnia?
Insomnia is a sleep disorder that makes it difficult for you to fall asleep or stay asleep during the night, although it can also cause you to wake up too early and not be able to fall back to sleep. Therefore, people who suffer from insomnia get little sleep and their sleep is of poor quality.
Insomnia is short-term when it occurs for a few days or a few weeks, and long-term or chronic when sleep problems occur three or more times a week for at least 3 months.
The main causes of insomnia are:
- Stress and traumatic events.
- Time changes caused by long commutes or frequent shift changes at work.
- Bad sleep habits, such as irregular wake-up and bedtime schedules or stimulating activities before going to sleep.
- Certain diseases, such as Parkinson’s disease, hyperthyroidism or anxiety.
- Certain medications, such as some antidepressants, antihypertensives.
- The consumption of caffeine, nicotine and alcohol.
- Consequences of insufficient sleep
Although the needs of each person are different, in general, adults need between 7 and 8 hours of sleep a day. If you do not get enough sleep, your physical and mental well-being can be affected for the following reasons:
- You feel tired and sleepy during the day.
- You find it difficult to concentrate, pay attention, learn or remember something.
- Your performance at work or school worsens.
- Your reflexes are impaired, so you are more likely to have an accident, for example, when driving.
- You feel irritable or depressed.
Developing good sleep habits can contribute to your ability to achieve deep sleep and prevent insomnia. Here are some tips on how to achieve this:
Create a routine: Your body as well as your mind gets used to routines. Try to go to bed and wake up every day at the same time, including weekends, so you can better program your internal clock.
Be physically active: Regular activity helps you discharge energy, which will help you sleep better.
Check your medications: Talk to your doctor to find out if any of your medications could be causing insomnia.
Avoid or limit naps: While it is good to take breaks during the day, avoid taking naps if they make it difficult for you to fall asleep.
Avoid or limit caffeine, alcohol and cigarettes: These tend to create a feeling of euphoria and stimulate the nervous system.
Avoid or limit large meals or drinks before bedtime: The digestion process can disrupt your rest.
Make sure your bedroom is comfortable and avoid using it for anything other than sleep or sexual activities: Just like having a routine, this will help your body understand that this space is for sleeping.
Create a ritual that relaxes you before bedtime: This is just another routine method that seeks to notify your body that bedtime is approaching.
Studies have shown that stressful situations, such as financial or work problems, family or relationship problems, and the abuse of medications and illicit substances, can be the cause of insomnia or other sleep disorders.
Dr. Mansi Shah
Functional Wellness Network