The Importance Of Healthy Sleep

Healthy sleep is as important as diet, exercise and stress management for health.

Many American’s fail to make the effort to get healthy sleep, believing that sleep is expendable. Research is beginning to show us that this is not true. We are losing sleep at our own risk.

“There is plenty of compelling evidence supporting the argument that sleep is the most important predictor of how long you will live, perhaps more important than whether you smoke, exercise, or have high blood pressure or cholesterol levels.”(1)

Believe it or not, getting healthy sleep…

* Can increase your ability to think clearly and function at your highest level

* Can boost althletic performance by 30%

* Improves your skin and appearance

* Helps you lose weight

* Improves your memory and ability to learn

* Decreases your risk of diabetes

* Helps to protect your heart and decrease your risk of heart disease

* Improves your ability to fight off infections

* Decreases your risk of accidents(2-4)

The Benefits of Sleep:

“We are not healthy unless our sleep is healthy.” writes sleep research pioneer, William Dement, MD(1).

Intuitively, we’ve always known that sleep is important. “There’s nothing better than a good night’s sleep” is a common expression of this understanding. But for some reason we don’t listen to our own wisdom. As children most of us had bedtimes that were the law of the household. Our parent’s made sure that we got enough sleep. They knew what was good for us. As we got older most of us seem to have forgotten or ignored the value of sleep. We live in a culture that values industriousness, work and productivity, and that frowns on lethargy.

Within just the past year (2008) there has been a surge of media attention on healthy sleep and insomnia. This is largely a result of more research coming out on the ill effects of insomnia for previously unsuspected conditions like heart disease, diabetes, cancer, obesity and weight gain. Researchers now suggest that insomnia is a major risk factor for these diseases.

Why are we losing so much healthy sleep?

A major cause of lost sleep is stress and overwork.

In stressful times in our life a common reaction is to rev ourselves up to meet the demands placed upon us. Stresses may come and go in our individual lives. But now our entire society seems to be stressed. Almost no one would argue that we are now experiencing stress of historic proportions(circa 2008).

One of the first casualties of stress is healthy sleep. We Americans are struggling with insomnia more than ever. In 2005 a poll by the National Sleep Foundation reported that less than half of all Americans feel they get healthy sleep either every night or every other night(5). More details please visit:-

Our nation’s lack of healthy sleep is reflected by our use of sleep medications. Forty-nine million prescriptions for sleep medications were written in 2006(3). This was a 53% increase over the previous five years. The leading sleep drug is Ambien which accounted for 60% of sleep prescriptions in 2006, or $2,800,000,000 (2.8 billion) in sales. In 2006 drug companies spent $600,000,000 on advertising. The primary focus of all the advertising has been “destigmatizing sleeping pill use”(5).

While the major reason for all our sleeplessness is stress, our modern environment also discourages sleep.

Artificial light and man made technologies give us many reasons to stay awake at night. Remember that for most of mankind’s history the darkness of night put a real damper on staying awake to the wee hours. Our grandparents slept 1 1/2 hours more than we do each night according to Dr. Christopher Gillin, a psychiatrist and professor at the University of San Diego(6). He reports that one in three Americans complain of a bout of insomnia within the last year, and one in six consider their insomnia serious.

Thomas Edison himself, inventor of the electric light bulb, believed that too much sleep was a bad thing. “The person who sleeps eight or ten hours a night is never fully asleep and never fully awake-he has only different degrees of doze through the 24 hours”, said Edison. He felt that people got twice as much sleep as needed. Excess sleep caused them to be “unhealthy and inefficient”(1).

While Edison is known to have frequently slept only four hours a night, it is also reported that he also took frequent daytime naps. His total sleep time seems to have been close to 8 hours each 24 hours. Given Edison’s personal philosophy it follows that he invented the electric light bulb. No single invention has so disrupted the human sleep cycle as electric lights.

The rhythm of healthy sleep and our biological clock

Our biological clock keeps time for our body’s natural rhythm of sleep and awakening. It sets the timing of healthy sleep. Our body’s clock can be upset by artificial light. Our body follows the day-night cycle by registering light through the eyes. This daily rhythm is called the circadian rhythm.

Each 24 hours as our earth rotates on its axis we experience this rhythm. It is the 24 hour repeating cycle that our lives are patterned after. The darkness of night stimulates our brain to release melatonin, the body’s sleep hormone. Melatonin helps to induce sleep. Artificial lighting lowers melatonin secretion and can interfere with our ability to get to sleep.

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