In our busy and hectic lives the importance of restful sleep is often overlooked and under stressed. Research has shown that 75% of people have difficulty sleeping and more often people sleeping closer to six hours per night rather than the recommended eight. Loss of a few hours of sleep here and there should not cause alarm, it is the chronic sleep loss that has an effect on health. Research from Harvard Medical School has shown that that loss of sleep can decrease learning and memory, cause weight gain, increase stress and hypertension, cause an increase in accidents, and decrease the body’s immune system functioning leaving it more susceptible to cancer.
Some of the first signs of sleep deprivation include irritability and moodiness, next one may experience slowed speech, inability to multitask, and impaired judgment. Eventually the person will start to fall into a micro-sleep for 5-10 seconds, which has it’s obvious hazards such as driving. The National Highway Safety Association (NHSA) has found that falling asleep while driving is responsible for a minimum of 100,000 accidents each year in the U.S. Lastly, after prolonged insomnia the hypnagogic hallucinations start to take effect.
Eight hours is the general recommendation for most folks, but depending on the individual this number can vary from six to ten. Some can function on six hours of sleep and not experience signs of sleep deprivation and others cannot function without ten full hours. The trick is to get to know your body and how you respond to a good night’s sleep.
According to sleep researchers, stress in the number one cause of short-term sleeping issues and usually sleeping patterns will return to normal when the problem is resolved. Therefore stress management is a good approach to help resolve difficulty sleeping. Other factors that can affect sleep include alcohol and caffeine intake, exercising within a few hours of bedtime, mental exertion right before going to bed, jet lag, and not having regular sleep schedule.
If stress is the root cause of sleep disturbances there are many natural therapies available such as meditation, yoga, guided imagery, visualization, hypnotherapy, and progressive relaxation that can be utilized to ensure a successful night’s sleep. Other factors that can be implemented include a keeping a regular sleep routine, write down anything that may be on your mind before bed, and attempt to go to bed before bedtime (you may actually make it there by bedtime). Make sure the environment is optimal, comfortable temperature, dark room and minimize the external noise.