Why is sleep important?

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ith so much fantastic new science emerging around sleep there is now no doubt that what your mum told you was true all along. Sleep is important! In today’s day and age sleep, as we have evolved to know it, is becoming increasingly more difficult.

One in three people in the UK now sleeps for just five-to-six hours per night, significantly less than the standard seven or eight hours that conventional wisdom tells us we need. Sleep research suggests that mental and physical problems become more pronounced if we regularly sleep for less than six hours.

And this trend has been increasing over recent years. We now sleep less than we did just three years ago. In 2010, The Sleep Council found that 27% of people slept for just five-to-six hours per night – in 2013, 7% more people get by on this amount.

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nterestingly, sharing your bed with a spouse and going to bed at a regular time seem to help you get a good night’s sleep. Also, it’s Londoners who get the best quality sleep; 29% said they sleep very well, in contrast to Wales where only 19% reported the same experience. With the advent of the industrial revolution, increases in stress and now technology addiction, quality sleep is becoming more elusive in our western societies.

Many epidemiological studies have been carried out proving that sleep deprivation or disruption on a long term basis increases the incidence of cancer, cardiovascular disease, diabetes and obesityIn fact the W.H.O. (World Health Organisation) have recently classified shift work as a probable carcinogen.

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his is the bad news. But the good news is that good sleep is within our grasp and once we start getting into the habit of prioritising our sleep not only will we be healthier but we will also be happier too.

It’s plain to see how a sleep-deprived child will readily throw his toys out of the pram and quickly get angry, but as we grow up into adults we lose sight of the fact that those same feelings are happening in us even if we have learned to put a brave face on and call it stress.

The fact is, as adults, our lives become busier and we readily sacrifice our sleep to do all the things we believe we have to do. But what if sleeping well was the one thing that we should never sacrifice if we want to lead a long and healthy life?

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inks between long term sleep issues and early dementia are well known and it has been proven for some time that there is a correlation between poor sleep and mental health issues. So if sleep deprivation impacts our physical and mental health, why don’t we spend more of our lives sleeping?

It’s certainly true to say that we all need different amounts of sleep. Although between 7-9 hours is recommended, some people can function perfectly well on less while some may need slightly more. Unfortunately oversleeping can also be bad for your health. The trick is to listen to your body, so you can make the distinction. This can be difficult to do if you are self-medicating with drink or drugs and especially with sleeping tablets.

When we sleep we all pass through different sleep cycles. If we are sleeping in a healthy way, when connected to an EEG (electroencephalogram) which tracks and records brain wave patterns and electrical activity in the brain and is commonly used by sleep scientists, a doctor can see us pass through 5 different stages of sleep. A full sleep cycle lasts around 90 minutes. These stages vary between non-REM sleep (this is where the deep restorative stage occurs) and REM sleep (associated with dreams). Throughout a full night’s sleep, we may pass through between 4 and 6 of these cycles. Deep sleep is associated with the restoration of our physiology.

Did you know that during sleep our brains shrink by up to 60% to allow for toxins to be washed away?

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