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How Does Sleep Affect Your Health?

Even though we live in a fast-paced world, it’s important to make self-care a top priority. What easier way is there to take care of yourself than sleeping?

It’s a well-known fact that sleeping makes you feel better, but it’s health benefits reach far beyond getting rid of those unwanted under-eye circles or a boost in your mood. A sufficient amount of sleep is crucial in maintaining a healthy lifestyle; mentally and physically. More likely than not, you need to sleep more! How much sleep do we actually need though? Sleep health specialists are exploring and looking at all the factors that affect our sleep and how we are impacted by it. It is rather a broad subject, but can be divided into four categories; science, the bedroom, lifestyle, and age.

Science
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Researchers have been looking into how the brain is affected by sleep. Cerebral spinal fluid is pumped faster throughout the brain while you are sleeping. Imagine your brain as a dishwasher. It whisks away waste products that the brain cells make. It is like waking up with a clean slate.

The lungs play a factor in this process as well. When you are awake, your breathing patterns will vary. When you get excited, you will breathe faster. When you are exercising, you will breathe harder. When you sleep, your breathing slows down and becomes regular.

The heart is one body part that actually gets a break while you sleep. The heart works incredibly hard during the day. During the non-REM sleep cycle you experience, your heart will take some pressure off of itself by reducing your heart rate, which will also reduce your blood pressure.

While you are sleeping, your muscles also benefit. Your body will release growth hormones that will work to rebuild muscles and joints. The more sleep a person can get, the better prepared your body will be to repair itself.

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Your stomach also plays a key role in your ability to fall asleep. There are foods that contain an amino acid called tryptophan. This amino acid will cause drowsiness. Carbohydrates make tryptophan more accessible to the brain. This is why meals with heavy carbohydrates have the potential to make you sleepy.

The Bedroom
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Your sleep environment definitely matters. You want to create an atmosphere that will help you drift off to sleep and enjoy a restful night. It’s important to allow your room to rest at cool temperatures. Most sleep experts recommend the ideal room temperature for sleeping to be between 62-68 degrees farenheit with warm bedding. Making your room as dark as possible is crucial in regulating sleep patterns and your circadian rhythm (your internal body clock). When light begins to dim at night, your body sends messages to your brain to release melatonin, the hormone that controls your sleep and wake cycle. This is why the use of technology is discouraged 1-2 hours before you go to sleep because the light permitted by these technological devices tricks your brain into thinking it’s time to wake up. In doing so, your brain suppresses your melatonin levels.

Lifestyle
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Our daily schedules, both on the weekdays and weekends, affect our sleep. Just as our sleep cycles affect our daily schedules:

• There are foods that will help induce sleep and foods that will offer you a pick me up.
Tryptophan will cause drowsiness. The proteins from the food we eat are the building blocks of tryptophan. If you need a bedtime snack, it is best to choose one that contains both carbohydrates and proteins. A great example would be a bowl of cereal with milk.

• Melatonin will help your body control its sleep and wake cycles.
Your body has an internal clock, also known as a circadian rhythm. This will influence how much melatonin your body will make. The amount of light that you are exposed to every day will also help your body determine how much melatonin to make.

• Sex is good for sleeping well.
Sex boosts oxytocin, which is a hormone that makes you feel connected to your partner. It will also lower cortisol, which is a stress related hormone. Having an orgasm will release prolactin which makes you feel relaxed and tired.

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• Caffeine can last in your system for 5-6 hours before wearing off completely.
Do you remember the last time you gave into that can of soda right before bed and you were left laying there alone with regretful thoughts? We’ve all been there a time or two! Caffeine can be excellent in the morning for a boost of energy, but drinking it too close to your bedtime can rob you of a good night’s rest. It is wise to stop drinking caffeine in the early afternoon, so that as night rolls around, you will be able to be relaxed for bed.

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• Your ability to stay focused is improved by sleep.
Your ability to focus and learn throughout the day is very much affected by the quantity and quality of your sleep. A good night’s rest can increase your ability to make accurate split second decisions by four percent.

• Exercise will help you sleep better and longer.
If you are able to exercise regularly, you will be able to sleep better at night and feel less tired during the day. Regular exercise will also improve the symptoms of insomnia and sleep apnea. It will increase the amount of time that you spend in a deep, restorative sleep. The more vigorous of exercise you do, the more your sleep will benefit. Even if you do some light exercising, such as walking, your quality of sleep will improve. It is important to remember not to vigorously workout 2-3 hours before bed. This is because working out will increase your body temperature, which makes it more difficult to rest.

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Age
The amount of sleep that we need changes as we age. Babies less than three months old will sleep between 14-17 hours a day (are you as jealous as we are reading that?). Infants between four months and eleven months will sleep between 12-15 hours a day. School age children between the ages of six and thirteen years old will sleep between 9-11 hours a day. Teenagers between the ages of fourteen and seventeen years old need 8-10 hours of sleep a day. Young Adults between the ages of eighteen to twenty five will need 7-9 hours of sleep a day. Adults need between 7-9 hours of sleep a day.

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While we all know that getting enough sleep is important for our well-being, too many of us do not actually get in the recommended amount that we need. Sleep can get put on the back burner and not be a priority in our lives. We can go into sleep debt, and will forget what it feels like to be really rested. If you start to short yourself on hours of sleep, your adenosine will build up in your bloodstream. Your body needs the time to sleep to break down the adenosine. When this builds up it will make your reaction time slow down. This is when mistakes are more commonly made. It can be extremely dangerous to even get behind the wheel of a car. Shortage of sleep has been blamed for up to 100,000 traffic accidents a year, 76,000 injuries and even 1500 deaths. It is beyond important to make sure that you are getting the sufficient amount of sleep that your body needs.