Right from the time we were toddlers, negotiating bed time with our parents was a daily event. And as we’ve grown older, what was once a regimented affair started developing cracks. By the time we knew it, sleeping late on account of college assignments, work projects or even catching up on the latest episode of one’s favourite TV serial had become a way of life. We all agree, in theory, about the importance of 7-9 hours of sleep every night. Unfortunately, most of us don’t quite follow it. Many of us even cheat on these hours by spending an extra hour idly browsing the internet on our smart phones or tablets while in bed.
While eating healthy and getting enough exercise have become integral parts of our lives, adequate sleep seems to have been given step-sisterly treatment. The average human is expected to spend at least a third of their day on uninterrupted sleep. We may not acknowledge it, but the human body requires the powering down to take care of numerous functions such as memory consolidation, recharging of cardiovascular system, muscle repair, the release of hormones to regulate growth, appetite, boost immunity and a lot more. While sleep is popularly viewed as being inactive, it is a very active process. Research has shown that besides an increase in the activity of the endocrine system during sleep, the brain is as active as at any time when awake. Many of us wake up tired, are irritable and can’t focus on work throughout the day, resulting in copious amounts of coffee and the craving for junk food to give energy. These in turn result in acidity, dehydration, obesity and more. It’s a vicious cycle that takes quite some work to get out of.
At the same time, too much of a good thing isn’t good. Excessive sleep has its own pitfalls. Oversleeping has been linked to medical problems such as heart disease and diabetes. The number of hours of sleep one needs to put in each night varies based on one’s age, nature of work, lifestyle, etc. For example, some people tend to sleep more during periods of stress while others have difficulty sleeping. Keeping all of the various factors in mind, any expert would recommend anything between seven to nine hours of sleep each night.
Easy indicators that the number of hours of sleep you’re putting in is not adequate include frequent headaches, dehydration, acidity, heaviness, lack of focus, irritability, mood swings. We’ve all come across colleagues who’ve snapped at you for reasons you cannot comprehend. The chances are high that it could be the lack of sleep. For some people the effects of inadequate sleep are immediate and evident. Alarm bells go off within a couple of days of not getting adequate sleep. But for many, the effects are felt much later on. Scientific studies show that in the short run, the lack of adequate sleep affects moods, cognitive and memory abilities and judgement. The long term, more harmful effects include diabetes, cardiovascular trouble and obesity. Some even go far as linking the lack of sleep with morbid consequences.
It’s essential for everyone to obsess about sleep in the same way they would about their weight should they want to maintain a well-rounded healthy lifestyle. Simple steps, as recommended by experts, include keeping the same bed time and waking time each day. Having your last cup of tea, or any other caffeinated beverage or food, at least four to six hours before bed time can help ensure uninterrupted sleep. Alcohol and heavy meals close to bed time are a definite red flag. Staying away from your electronic devices at least an hour before bedtime has been known to be conducive to a good night’s sleep. Combining all of this with regular exercise, even if it is a twenty minute walk, each day improves the quality of your sleep significantly.
There’s no denying that one feels great after a good night’s sleep. So why limit yourself to a handful of such days each month when you can be functioning at your best every day of the week?