Tuesday 20 February 2018

Good sleep is essential for your health

Calodagh McCumiskey's Wellbeing & Meditation

On average, we sleep 20 percent less than we did 100 years ago. Some like to boast of burning the candle at both ends. Successful people often brag about how little they sleep - up late and up early. But over time this results in burn-out at best and can have even more disastrous consequences. Even the best and wisest of people make bad judgement calls when deprived of sleep.

The average person needs 7 to 9 hours sleep-or approximately one third of our lives. There are those like Winston Churchill and Margaret Thatcher and a few yogis that I encountered on my travels in India and the Himalayas that only need 3 to 4 hours a night but few of us are in this category and insufficient sleep adversely affects us physically, mentally emotionally, creatively and sexually.

During sleep, our immune system performs vital functions repairing and regenerating tissues, building bone and muscle and boosting our immune system all essential to physical and mental health. Lack of sleep also makes us mentally foggy as sleep also plays a key role in our memory and learning. Things take longer to do. We argue more easily. We make mistakes that can be time-consuming and costly to fix. Reducing sleep time to give more time to do stuff is at best counterproductive and can easily result in more problems.

When we do not sleep, activity increases in the brain centre responsible for fear and emotional interpretation of events - the amygdala. This we know because we get cranky, narky, grouchy and more agitated when lacking in sleep. Or if not us, we see it happening in others. Relationship wise, it can make us simply too tired to enjoy one another. Lack of sleep brings on more stress. It robs us of joy and happiness. It can often mean at best existing rather than living.

It is no accident that sleep deprivation is a form of torture as you feel tired, irritable, and have difficulty focusing. When sleep deprived for longer, abilities to read and speak are impaired. Body temperature lowers, and appetite is increased. And later disorientation, hallucinations and lethargy.

The old adage 'Early to bed, early to rise makes a man healthy wealthy and wise' holds a lot of truth. Sleep is foundational and essential to health and happiness.

If you are struggling with sleep it is important to look at why and address. Stress is often the number one factor. If stress is the main problem for you, the cause of the stress has to be looked at and addressed. If your thinking habits are promoting stress, change them. Meditation will help you do this. Internal, External and environmental factors all have to be looked at. Food (quality, quantity and timings) and coffee, tea and alcohol taken too close to sleep time can all adversely affect sleep. Removing light, computers, TV and phones from your room helps promote sleep. Basically anything that will over activate or agitate our minds should be avoided.

Relaxation techniques, breath-work and Meditation all relax the mind and prepare us for sleep. Meditation produces melatonin which aids sleep and also produces serotonin and decreases cortisol in the body. Serotonin makes us feel good and cortisol is a stress hormone. One of the first benefits my students get from meditation is a good nights sleep. After the first class, they invariably report, 'I slept so well'.

Good sleep is essential for sustained happiness, productivity, peace, success and health. When we think like this about sleep and prioritise it, it gives new meaning to the phrase 'Sleep your Way to the Top'!


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