Sleep, a key health ingredient

People in the Western world suffer from acute lack of sleep. This is what health experts have recently concluded, as they have found that today children and adults alike sleep an average of 2 hours less than their grand-parents did.

In the US, it appears that one third of the population today sleeps less than 6 hours per night, which is largely insufficient for optimal health. Don’t be tempted to think that some people need less sleep than others to be in good shape. Whatever your take on your sleep needs, the lack of sleep can really damage your health, so read on.

Clearly the world has changed a great deal in the past 2-3 decades. Today outside stimulations abound. The dark of the night is in many places disrupted by the constant city lights, not to mention the traffic and other noise pollution. What about the constant stimulation provided by television, computers, smartphones and other hand-held devices and screens? We are constantly connected with the outside world and our hyper activity is making it difficult for us to find the rest that our bodies crave, which results in increased stress and exhaustion.

Moreover, it appears that reading from a hand-held screen at night, such as an iPad, can have disruptive effects on the serotonin, a hormone involved in sleep and feeling good. The emission of magnetic waves as well as strong light, at a time when our bodies would normally get into pre-sleep mode, disrupts these natural cycles and as a result the quality of our sleep suffers.

Yet sleep is essential to our health. It is during our sleep that many key metabolic functions are carried out, such as growth, cleansing and healing, but also the integration of knowledge in our brain. Sleep is a much needed time for recovery which must not be neglected. When we know all that takes place in the body during our sleep, we think twice about systematically ignoring those needs. Not to mention how good it feels….

The lack of sleep can even prevent weight loss, or lead to weight gain, because it is during the sleep that growth hormones contribute to burning fat. A surprising fact! You can add to this the fact that lacking sleep creates more food cravings, so we tend to eat more sweet foods to counterbalance the lack of energy, which only makes the situation worse in terms of weight gain and sluggishness. The resulting hormonal imbalance in turn leads to more food cravings that are counterproductive.

The health risks associated with a lack of sleep (and poor sleep quality) are manifold:

– higher risk of cardiovascular disease;
– impaired mental performance and clarity, diminished reaction time and memory;
– mood swings and behavioral issues;
– blood sugar imbalance possibly leading to insulin resistance (which can evolve to diabetes)…

Some tips to achieve high quality sleep and thus support optimal health:

– Stop eating at least 3 hours before bed time as digestion can disturb sleep;
– Turn off the computer, mobile phone and television at least 1 hour before bed time to avoid these stimuli (and keep them outside the bedroom);
– Avoid all kinds of stimulation and prefer reading in bed or relaxing in the dark in order to reduce the levels of cortisone;

Go to sleep before midnight, at the latest around 11pm;
– Sleep at least 7-8 hours for adults, more for children;
– If you enjoy this, drink relaxing herbal teas in the evening and of course avoid coffee and caffeine!

It’s important to take control of your own health to avoid civilisation diseases and feel great by making the right lifestyle choices. Food is one part of these choices, but other factors are also key, such as sleep, exercise and mindset. Start now by looking after your sleep, it really needs your attention!



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One thought on “Sleep, a key health ingredient

  1. Is one of your favorite sayings “I’ll sleep when I’m dead”? You may want to reconsider. Far from being a time-wasting, 8-hour sentence in a useless void, the research is pretty clear on this point: sleep is crucial for good health. It helps memory and mood, keeps you trim, strengthens your immune system, fights inflammation, and keeps your heart and blood vessels in tip-top shape.

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