If you’re reading this and you never
watched “Sesame Street” while growing up, then I’m sorry, you may be missing something serious in your education!
For those of us who started life especially in the 70’s and 80’s, this series was perhaps the most wholesome-and awesome- TV stuff you could give a child! And we loved it!
There was this episode which featured a song by Joe Raposo: “Everybody Sleeps”. Brilliant song! The moral of the song? It’s alright to sleep. Everybody does. And let me add: Everybody should-not just the children!
A Sleep Loss Epidemic Is Upon Us!
Many people these days can’t get good sleep anymore. Many others don’t even want to sleep anymore! Within the last 60 years alone, the human race has managed to cut its average duration of sleep by over twenty percent! There’s work, career pursuit, and social problems on one side. On the other side, there’s night life, parties, TV, and video games! Some other people don’t even have a choice of good sleep because they live in communities with war, disease and poverty!
Mankind is being ravaged by “invisible” monsters like hypertension and diabetes, but we fear that in the next few years sleep deprivation may rise to become the number one terror!
How Important Is Sleep?
First, a quick glance at the Physiology of Sleep:
Apart from what we know it to be, sleep can scientifically be defined as “a naturally recurring state characterised by reduced or absent consciousness, relatively suspended sensory activity, and inactivity of nearly all voluntary muscles.”
Athletes, and indeed all normal people have to take an occasional break from physical activity for a while to relax and regain strength. This is called rest. But there comes a time, usually after many hours of being alert, when we feel tired or drowsy and have to sleep. This is called…well…sleep!
So, resting revitalizes our bodies for new tasks while sleep revitalizes mainly our brains.
What Happens While We Sleep?
Many wonders go on overnight while our eyes are deep shut. But two of the most important stuff are:
Consolidation of memory: new things we consciously learn are first stored in a special file in the part of our brain called the hippocampus. During good sleep, this memory is sent to long term storage and saved. Hence, people who have poor sleep tend to complain of forgetfulness.
Brain waste disposal: just as waste products from other parts of the body have to be removed for good health, the brain has its own special waste disposal needs. During sleep, toxic waste products like beta-amyloid are removed effectively from the brain. It follows that poor sleep over an extended period of time leads to accumulation of this substance in the brain, thus increasing the risk of degenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s disease.
I Don’t Get Good Sleep… So, What?!
A poll was conducted some months ago and we found that only a little more than 10% of our respondents claimed to be satisfied with their quality of sleep. More than 80% of the other folks had poor sleep!
Concentration: lack of sleep usually leads to poor concentration and inability to focus, with a reduced attention span. Indeed, many people who don’t sleep well don’t get things done effectively.
Walking disasters: if you are a poor sleeper, you are more prone to accidents and injury to yourself and others. Sleep deprivation causes fatigue, poor judgment, difficulty with memory and learning, and a slowing of reaction time. Several air plane crashes-or near crashes – have been linked to tired pilots! And try to imagine what a tired doctor can do…!
Fertility: poor sleep has been linked clearly with reduced levels of the male reproductive hormone testosterone. This can cause young men to have the virility levels of the elderly. Indeed, poorer sleep-poorer sex drive…
Other problems that may follow night crawlers include:
Reduced immunity: hence recurrent infections and increased risk of cancer, especially prostate, bowel and breast cancer. The World Health Organization (WHO) has officially recognized night-shift workers as being at higher risk of cancer. They also have a 200% higher risk of stroke and heart attack in a lifetime. This doesn’t sound like a cool retirement benefit!
Lack of sleep is now a recognized probable carcinogenic (cancer-causing) condition!
How to Sleep Well
Try to have a regular time of sleep at night: try to go to bed at about the same time every night
Where possible, and as much as possible, have a siesta: A siesta is a short nap taken in the early afternoon, often after the midday meal. Such a period of sleep is a common tradition in some countries, particularly those where the weather is warm. The siesta is historically common throughout the Mediterranean and Southern Europe, and Americans like to call it a Power nap. Power naps have been known to restore alertness, performance, and learning ability. Great for afternoon lectures! A nap may also reverse the hormonal impact of a night of poor sleep or reverse some of the damage of sleep deprivation. But try to avoid late afternoon or evening naps as this is highly likely to reduce night sleep greatly.
Reduce alcohol and caffeine: coffee and tea especially when taken at noon have a way of sticking around long enough in the body to show up at night and bite you in the posterior during sleep!
Darken your room: at night, try to do with dim or no lights in your bedroom. Darkness favours the production of the sleep hormone, Melatonin. This is also why some folks find it hard to go back to sleep when they wake up at night to a bright light.
Keep it cool! Dropping the temperature in your room at bedtime has been known to favour sleep, which is in fact more effective at lower temperatures.
Don’t lie in bed awake: this causes the body to continue in wakefulness even well into sleep hours. Instead, try to get up and do relaxing activities…perhaps a mild exercise or a great book. Then drop off to sleep. If you can help it, don’t turn your bed into a ceiling-gazing spot.
Sleeping pills are not the answer and do not help on the long run. They have even been said to increase the risk of death and cancer.
Talk to your doctor if you really can’t sleep. They can sort you out easily or get you to see a sleep specialist.
Would you like to look younger, be more attractive, be smarter, and have a golden chance at living longer? Adopt a mild exercise regimen and eat right (you already know that) and get a grip on your sleep!Have a good night, Dear…