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The Importance of Sleep

In today’s fast-paced world there is always more to do and fit in during the day. The first thing that people tend to cut back down on is sleep! It is well known that a lack of sleep can commonly manifest in a range of various mental, emotional and physical symptoms. It’s no wonder when someone is in a bad mood, it is said ‘they have woken up on the wrong side of the bed.’ During sleep, brain activity fluctuates between NREM (non-rapid eye movement) sleep and REM (rapid eye movement) sleep. This means that the brain goes from deep sleep phases to lighter transient sleep phases. During REM sleep, the brain activity ramps up and this is the stage associated with more intense dreaming. Each of these two stages play an important role in brain health and enabling better thinking, learning and memory. It is known that short term memories built up during the day are shifted to longer term memory stores requiring less energy to retrieve this information. A lack of sleep can affect this processing in the brain.

Moreover, a lack of sleep can often exacerbate other mental health disorders such as depression, anxiety and bipolar, as well as fast-tracking people towards dementia and Alzheimer’s disease earlier in life. There is also further research indicating that although many mental health disorders have a lack of sleep as a symptom, that a lack of sleep can actually lead to many of these diseases and that their relationship is bidirectional. Sleep is also important in cardiovascular health by maintaining our blood pressure at stable levels, diabetes by maintaining healthy blood sugar levels and minimizing unwarranted weight gain, ensuring a healthy functioning immune system and maintaining gut health by redirecting blood from our extremities and muscles to our digestive system in order to facilitate digestion.

Particularly for those that want to lose weight in a calorie deficit, a lack of sleep has been shown to reduce lean skeletal muscle mass as the primary source of weight loss. This is compared to participants in a similar trial that got a full 8 hours sleep, where most of the weight loss came from fat tissue. The Sleep Foundation recommends 7-9 hours of sleep for any person aged 18 and above. Younger children and teenagers require more sleep as per the Sleep Foundation’s guidelines to facilitate further development of their nervous system and brains. In the next article, we will discuss what strategies you can implement to ensure you get a good night’s sleep.

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