It’s nearly the weekend – a time when you can catch up on much needed sleep!  But apparently, a sleep-in is not always good for your health. 

About sleep
Sleep patterns are determined by your circadian rhythms. These refer to physical, mental and behavioural changes that occur in a 24-hour cycle. Circadian rhythms are driven by our biological clock. Biological clocks that control circadian rhythms are groupings of interacting molecules in cells throughout the body. A master clock that controls the biological ones is located in the hypothalamus (NIGMS Fact Sheet).

Circadian rhythms are naturally produced within the body. They are affected by the environment – principally by light. The master clock is located near the optic nerves. When the eyes receive information about incoming light, the optic nerve relays this to the master clock. When there is less light, it triggers the production of melatonin which is a hormone that makes you sleepy.

It is suggested that about 10%  of people suffer from a chronic lack of sleep or insomnia.  Contributing factors include being overweight, physical inactivity, alcohol dependence and lower back/joint disorders (Hassed, 2008, p76).

How much sleep do you need?
Many suggest that eight hours sleep a night is needed. Research shows that people with the lowest mortality rate get an average of seven hours of sleep a night whereas the mortality rate was higher for people averaging six hours a night or nine or more hours a night (Hassed, 2008, p76).

Are naps good for you?
It seems that there are mixed views on the benefits of after-lunch siestas.  Some suggest that they can increase cardio-vascular risk, others say they are protective. Once again, the duration of the sleep is pivotal. Shorter “power naps” are seen to be more beneficial than longer ones. Naps no longer than 20 minutes are believed to provide benefit through relaxation and a light sleep. Longer sleeps lead to upsetting the rhythm and the hormonal balance, resulting in the “grogginess” that comes after emerging from a deeper sleep.  The body seems to need more adrenaline to be woken properly, hence the concern about cardiac events (Hassed, 2008, p.77).

What’s more important – sleep quality or quantity? 
It seems that people who have a deeper sleep but less of it are less tired than those who sleep more, but have a lighter, more superficial sleep. Oversleeping  can leave healthy people feeling chronically tired whereas activity and exercise tend to improve sleep at night.

What affects sleep and your health
Your state of mind can affect your sleep. This includes stress, depression and anxiety, that can be brought on by lack of adequate relaxation and higher levels of adrenaline at night. Lack of sleep can lead to lower immunity. Some research suggests lack of sleep also contributes to diabetes, obesity and depression (can be both cause and effect).

Circadian rhythms suggest regular sleep patterns are important. Similarly, other lifestyle choices include patterns that will enhance sleep quality.

1. Establish a routine
Go to bed and get up at the same time every day. This helps regulate that internal clock. It’s suggested that if you need an alarm to wake you up, you are not getting enough sleep – and may need to go to bed earlier!

2. Avoid sleeping in
Even on weekends I hear you say? Yes it upsets the internal clock when you have been establishing a pattern.

3. Sleep in the dark
To encourage the release of melatonin, darkness is required so sleeping away from light is important.

4. Lifestyle is important
Over time, the body can be stimulated to produce more melatonin through exercise and improved diet.

5. Mindfulness, relaxation and stress management tools may help
These may be beneficial during the day as well as night with sleep.

6. Avoid excess alcohol, coffee and other stimulants

7. Deal with chronic pain or other health conditions
Pain and health conditions may affect your sleep. If this persists untreated, when the health condition is ultimately cured, the disturbed sleep may remain.

8. Use bed for sleep and sex only
Eating, working and watching television in bed can condition you to not sleep when you go to bed. Reading in bed may assist with sleep for some people.

Enjoy the weekend and sleep well.


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