Have you ever forfeited sleep in order to catch up on the latest series, or maybe complete a school or work assignment? How did you feel the next day?

In my experience of sleeping late, I observed that my body was sluggish, my brain foggy and unfocused, with emotions all over the place. On such days I was not the most pleasant person to be around.
This just goes to show how vital sleep is to our general well-being.

What is sleep

Sleep is a process that affects the major functioning of the body. Lack of sleep has been found to cause or contribute to diseases such as high blood pressure, depression, diabetes and heart conditions.

Sleep occurs in stages. These are rapid eye movement (REM) and Non-REM sleep; which is further divided in three stages.

During REM sleep, the body relaxes and becomes immobile while the brain becomes more active and re-energizes itself. This is the stage when dreaming takes place.

The stages of NREM sleep begin with the transition from wakefulness to sleep. This lasts for a short period, where your heartbeat, breathing and eye movements slow down as the muscles relax. The period of sleep we enter after this is the light sleep; the muscles relax, body temperature drops, and eye movement stops. Brain activity slows down. The last stage is the deep sleep – here one becomes less responsive to their surroundings. Breathing slows down and the muscles are more relaxed. It is in this stage that the body recharges itself.

So, why should we sleep?

Sleep revitalizes and rejuvenates our bodies. During sleep, the body repairs itself. Production of protein by the cells is higher thus facilitating the repair.

Our memory improves; the brain processes the day’s events creating links between sensory experiences and feelings.

Stress levels go down when we are able to get a good amount of sleep. On the flipside, our sleep cycle can be thrown off if we are experiencing high levels of stress.

Our bodies are controlled by hormones present in the brain. The hormones are responsible for different functions such as appetite which when well balanced, help in calorie regulation. Having a good sleep pattern can help in the regulation of these calories. In addition, sleep helps in digestion and absorption of nutrients into the body tissues.

Sleep helps us to be more energetic and alert. Our emotions are also better regulated when we get enough sleep.

How can we sleep better?

1. Have a sleep routine- try going to bed and waking up at a specific time every day; for example, you may decide to sleep at 10:30p.m and wake up at 5a.m. (depending on how many hours of sleep you need to feel refreshed)

2. Exercise- physical activity during the day helps in getting the body in a state of relaxation. It does not have to be vigorous and lengthy, 20 minutes each day can make a world of difference.

3. Relax before bed- take a warm bath before getting into bed or do some relaxation exercises

4. Reduce use of screens during bed time- the light from phones, laptops, TVs can inhibit the production of melatonin – a chemical in our brain responsible for sleep regulation.

5. Avoid nicotine, alcoholic or caffeinated beverages before sleep.

6. Eat small portions of food before bedtime- it helps to distribute your food intake throughout the day so that the body has enough time to digest it. Give yourself a few hours after eating before going to bed.

7. Change beddings regularly- a clean bed can affect the quality of your sleep. Using the same beddings for a long time can affect your sleep and health due to the accumulation of dirt.

8. Plan your daily activities- having a good plan for each day helps you keep in check to avoid spill over into your sleep time.

Photo credits: Google

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