Are You Neglecting Sleep?
This week, I’m focusing on something most of us take for granted: sleep. Many of my readers actively take responsibility for their health. They’re interested in eating right, avoiding household and environmental toxins, getting regular exercise, and raising happy, healthy families. Healthful, whole (preferably organic) foods, and adequate exercise, are utterly essential for vibrant health. But so, too, is sleep. And many who wouldn’t consider skipping a workout are willing to shortchange their sleep, without a second thought.
That’s a bad idea.
But why? Sleep is such a passive “activity”. Is it really worth much thought? Absolutely. To begin with, sleep is essential for the maintenance of not only the brain, but the rest of the body, too. There’s still a lot we don’t understand about sleep. But given that you’ll spend about one-third of your entire lifetime in this unconscious state, it would be foolish to discount its importance to your overall health. Many experts consider sleep, diet, and exercise to be the three pillars of good health.
Most adults need 7 - 9 hours of sleep per 24 hour daily cycle. Children and adolescents need even more, although these are the individuals who often get too little sleep. In case you’re wondering, we are not alone. All creatures require sleep, from mammals to worms. Have you ever noticed that cats seem to spend an awful lot of time dozing? It’s not that they’re particularly lazy, it’s just that cats—and dogs—need considerably more sleep than we do. As a general rule, the larger a mammal, the less sleep it needs. Even fish and dolphins sleep. In the latter case, though, dolphins have developed a unique solution to the problem of breathing while asleep in water. Only half their brains fall asleep at a time, allowing semi-conscious breathing.
Sleep deprivation—getting less than optimal shut eye during a given 24-hour cycle—is invariably bad for one’s health. In the short term, it can make you cranky and inattentive, interfere with your body’s ability to regulate your temperature, and prolong your reaction time. It also takes a toll on your body’s ability to fight off infections and repair wounds. Obviously, sleep deprivation can quickly lead to poor decision making, and increased risk of accidents. At worst, extended sleep deprivation can kill.
Of course, death by sleep deprivation is unlikely…or is it? Given that even a little sleep deprivation can increase the risk that you’ll be in an accident, or be diagnosed with cancer, or gain excess body weight, sleep deprivation may be more dangerous than you realize. Tomorrow I’ll discuss some of the dos and don’ts of good sleep hygiene.