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Sleep and a Healthy Mind

InShape News MindMatters

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PhotoCredit: Andrew Roberts 2008 – Sleeping:

“Sleep is vital to your health. Not only is our daily functioning compromised when we have a lack of sleep, but it can also lead to long-term health problems.”

Zoe Markopoulos – Psychologist (MAPs, CEDP)

What Defines Sleep?

Sleep problems are common in today’s busy world, as sleep is often one of the first areas often neglected. Rather than sleeping we watch movies, play online games, or go out with friends, and this lack of sleep can lead to problems.

Sleep, according to Psychologist Zoe Markopoulos, is not a fixed state of consciousness, as the brain moves through distinct stages of sleep repeatedly every night. The two broad categories of sleep are Rapid Eye Movement (REM) and Non-Rapid Eye Movement (NREM).

REM sleep occurs approximately once every 90 to 120 minutes, comprises one-quarter of our nightly sleep and is where most dreams tend to happen. While NREM sleep is collectively sleeping stages 1-3. Each stage has distinct characteristics. For example, drowsiness in stage 1 and relaxation of muscles in stage 3.

What Happens To The Body Without Sleep?

Without sleep, or a lack of sleep the body suffers. Personal trainer Nick Jack says most of us don’t know how important sleep actually is to the human body.

When light stimulates our skin or eyes, our hormonal system thinks it is daylight and releases a stress hormone called cortisol Nick Jack says. This hormone is activated to prepare our body for movement, work and whatever we need to do in daily life. Basically cortisol is needed to wake you up.

But as the sun goes down, says Jack, this hormone naturally decreases so that your body can prepare for the activation of the growth hormone called melatonin. Melatonin is then released to allow the body to repair itself from the day’s activities.

Mother Nature governs us, so there is a specific time that the body repairs itself. The cycle for physical repair is between 10 pm and 2 am, psychological repair between 2 am and 6 am. Therefore, if you go to bed at midnight you have now cut into 2 hours of your physical repair time says Nick Jack.

Your body will suffer, and as a result of lack of sleep and this can affect your physical and mental health.

Some short term symptoms are as follows:

  • Accumulation of fat around the belly.
  • Low energy and lack of concentration.
  • Moodiness, easily upset or to anger.
  • Pains in neck, shoulders and back.
  • Weakened immune system.

The long term effects are more severe and can become debilitating. Excessive production of the stress hormone cortisol leads to adrenal fatigue as the adrenal glands produce cortisol.

Nick Jack says that he’s consulted several clients with adrenal fatigue and their injury and illnesses were significant and numerous. These clients suffered from anything like chronic fatigue to chronic colds, infections, and even disease.

In a nutshell, says Nick Jack these clients had no repair time for their body to combat the destruction happening inside them. They were being eaten alive by their high levels of cortisol. Plus, their body was producing more fat to combat the cortisol and reduce stress.

How To Develop Good Sleep Patterns

Nick Jack says that some strategies to get you into a good sleep pattern are:

1. Be in bed by 10pm.

2. Minimize exposure to bright lights.

3. No stimulants such as coffee, sugar and alcohol after 2pm.

4. Keep your bedroom dark with no TV in the room.

5. Eat fresh foods only, beware of refined carbohydrates.

6. Regular exercise – If you’re struggling to sleep, do Tai Chi or some gentle stretching to help relax the body.

How to Overcome Common Sleep Problems

Zoe Markopoulos adds to this by saying that healthy sleep habits, referred to as good sleep hygiene, are mostly common sense. But we often do not actively think about them.

Good sleep hygiene can involve:

  • Following a sleep schedule of the same bed and wake time to help regulate your body’s clock.
  • Practicing a relax bedtime ritual to help separate your sleep time from activities that cause excitement or stress.
  • Avoiding going to bed on a full stomach, but not hungry either.
  • Going to another room if you are not asleep after 20 minutes in bed, until you feel tired again and then go back to bed.
  • Evaluating your room (e.g. removing distractions like a TV, ensuring the temperature is cool and free from any light or noise).
  • Getting sunlight during the day.
  • Obtaining 7-9 hours of sleep a day.
  • Avoiding naps, especially in the afternoon.
  • Exercising daily, at any time but not at the expense of your sleep.
  • Sleeping on a comfortable mattress and pillow.

In conclusion, don’t take sleep for granted; make it a priority. Your body will reward you handsomely.

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