Posted January 31, 2008 in Mind Body Spirit

One of the best things you can do for total body health can be accomplished lying flat on your back. Or on your stomach. Or your side. Or maybe even on your knees, if that’s how you like it. 

Oh yeah, that’s right, baby—I’m talking about sleep. Getting the proper amount of sleep (seven to nine hours for normal adults, nine-and-a-half on average for teens) not only makes you energized and alert the following day, it contributes to a healthy immune system, aids in recovery and growth and can help balance your appetite by helping to regulate levels of the hormones ghrelin and leptin, which play a role in our feelings of hunger and fullness. Failure to get enough sleep, on the other hand, can contribute to stress, depression, obesity and disease. Still think dozing off is a waste of time? Well, here’s the nitty-gritty on what a hot and heavy night with the sandman can do for you.

According to the siesta specialists at www.sleepfoundation.org, our nightly rest is comprised of alternating REM (rapid eye movement) and NREM (non-rapid eye movement) sleep in a cycle that repeats itself about every 90 minutes.

When we first fall asleep, we enter the NREM phase (75-percent of the night), which is composed of four stages. Stage one is the light sleep between being awake and falling asleep. Stage two, the onset of sleep, is when you truly disengage from your surroundings, your breathing and heart rate become regular and your body temperature drops. Stages three and four are our deepest and most restorative sleep—blood pressure drops, breathing slows, muscles relax, blood supply to muscles increases, tissue growth and repair occurs, energy is restored and hormones are released, such as growth hormone, essential for growth and development.

The first REM phase (25-percent of night) then occurs 90 minutes later. REM sleep provides energy to the brain and body, creating stores for the next day. This phase is also when the brain is active and dreams occur—the eyes dart back and forth and the body becomes immobile and relaxed as muscles are turned off. During your dreams and deep sleep are when your brain is busy processing your day, making connections between events, sensory input, feelings and memories, a process called memory consolidation.

According to Dr. Mark Stibich, a behavior change expert and www.about.com’s Guide to Longevity, when people get less than six or seven hours of sleep each night, their risk for developing disease increases (Donald Trump often claims he only gets four hours of sleep a night—at last, a light at the end of the tunnel for people who can’t stand him). When your body is sleep-deficient, it goes into a state of stress, boosting blood pressure and the production of stress hormones. Higher blood pressure increases your risk for heart attacks and strokes, while the increase in stress hormones raises the level of inflammation in your body, creating more risk for cancer, diabetes and the premature deterioration of your body as you age. Sleep actually regulates a ton of chemicals in your body, including serotonin, which, when lacking, can lead to depression.

If you’ve been cruisin’ for some snoozin’, feel guilty no longer—sleep is a time for your body to repair damage caused by stress, ultraviolet rays and other harmful exposures. Getting the proper amount of sleep is just as important to a healthy body as exercise and good nutrition. A short nap of even 20-30 minutes can help to improve mood, alertness and performance. Winston Churchill, John F. Kennedy, Ronald Reagan, Napoleon, Albert Einstein, Thomas Edison and George W. Bush are all known to have been fans of the afternoon nap. However, after eight years of crap coming out of the White House, I’m wondering if perhaps Bush should have napped a little less.







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