Sleep Well and Be Healthy

Having trouble sleeping at night? Has your tossing and turning at night begun to affect your productivity during the day? Well you are not alone. According to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, approximately 60 million Americans suffer from sleeping problems. Of that 60, 40 million suffer from long-term and chronic disorders.

Our body craves sleep as nourishment just as much as food and water. Even one night of missed or inefficient sleep will carry over to the next day. Sleep debt can attribute to loss of reaction time, problems concentrating and performing physical tasks, and adjustments to mood and emotion. It is recommended that the average adult get around seven to eight hours of sleep per night.

Our sleep/wake cycle is triggered and controlled by neurotransmitters in the brain. Sleeping through the proper cycles and for an appropriate amount of time gives important neurons time to rest. Many scientists believe that if these neurons do not get this “rest” they begin to malfunction. This is why we have problems with memory and focus after a night of restlessness.

There are various external and internal factors that lead to neurotransmitter disruption. Certain chemicals we consume stimulate certain parts of the brain, making sleeping difficult:

* Caffeine
* Diet pills
* Decongestants

Alcohol has the opposite effect, triggering sleep. However, while consumption of alcohol may help you fall asleep, the quality is severely disrupted. There are five stages in the sleep cycle. Stages 4 and 5 (which is referred to as REM or rapid eye movement) are considered the restorative stages. Alcohol prevents you from entering the deeper sleep stages, leaving you tired and groggy in the morning despite how long you may have slept. Heavy smoking also limits the amount of REM sleep one experiences.

Snoring is a very common sleep disruptor that affects 90 million Americans, according to the National Sleep Foundation. Snoring is caused when the breathing pathway narrows. In cases of sleep apnea, the throat closes completely, stopping breathing. In these cases it is important to consult with a doctor.

There are many factors that attribute to snoring.

* Age
* Obesity
* Sleep positions
* Anatomical abnormalities: deviated septum, enlarged tonsils, etc.
* Functional abnormalities – colds, allergies, etc.
* Alcohol consumption and other muscle relaxants

In most cases, snoring problems can be treated with simple lifestyle changes such as diet and sleep position. In some instances, such as with an anatomical issue, surgery may be performed to widen or clear up the breathing passageway. Some more serious cases may require you to wear some sort of device like a CPAP (continuous positive airway pressure appliance). It is important to consult with a doctor if simple lifestyle changes are not improving the situation.

Sleep deprivation can be very dangerous. Aside from hindering functionality such as memory and mind calculations, it also impairs judgment and reaction timing. A study conducted by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration tested the effects of sleep deprivation on driving. The study found that those with sleep deprivation had even slower reaction times than someone who was intoxicated. Driver fatigue contributes to approximately 100,000 motor vehicle accidents and 1,500 deaths per year.

There are a few behavioral changes that can help encourage good sleep.

* Exercise routinely.
* Make sure you are relaxed before bed.
* Avoid caffeine, nicotine, and other stimulants.
* Avoid alcohol.
* Keep a consistent schedule.
* Do not lie in bed if you are not tired: Get rid of the TV.
* Maintain a proper diet.

Of course, with any persistent or chronic health problem, if simple lifestyle changes do not help, you should consult with a health care physician.

Maintaining a healthy lifestyle is central to being well rested. Proper amounts of quality rest allow the body to perform at optimum functionality and balance. Sweet dreams!

About the Expert:
Joel Mark is an online author who is passionate about basketball, weight training, and fitness. When he’s not outside exercising, he studies a lot about health and nutrition, which runs the gamut from avoid sleep apnea masks to nutrition.


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