Sleep: Part of the Fitness Equation

Is it possible to sleep your way to fitness?

No.

Now, that was a short article, wasn’t it?

Of course sleep is an important part of the overall fitness equation, and it works right in there with exercise; eating healthfully; and, drinking plenty of water. Not to mention the usual reminders about not smoking; not doing drugs; and, not drinking excessive amounts of alcohol.

So, how does sleep fit in? Like a comfy pillow! Sleep works to refresh your body and mind, and keep the two in balance.

Open 24 Hours?

In our fast-paced society, we often feel we are missing something if we don’t stay up that extra hour to watch a TV program, finish a book, fold the laundry, and so on. It is tempting to cheat on sleep occasionally, but to make it a habit eventually wreaks havoc on your brain and body.

Your body is not a carry-out shop! Make sure it is not open 24 hours a day.

Sleep is a necessary part of the natural rhythm of life. Through sleep, the body and brain recharge, and in fact, your brain does a little housecleaning – shoring up connections, and retreating from the demands of waking life. Although some people may be able to fudge along on less sleep than average, they still need their personal quota – at least seven hours is recommended for a fairly active adult.

A person’s individual pattern of sleep may be disrupted temporarily for a variety of reasons. Stress, illness, and a change in work schedule are three common reasons. Such disruptions can cause a short-term or long-term sleep disorder that throws your body and brain out of synch.

Sleep Disorders

Almost everyone can have a sleep disorder at one time or another. This can range from common snoring to more significant disorders. It has been said that the effects of chronic sleepiness on life quality are as great as conditions such as arthritis and seizures!

One expert on sleep disorders states that we are, “Awash in a sea of ignorance about the importance of sleep.” It has been shown that sleep loss impacts every facet of today’s workplace – from attendance, to productivity, to quality. And since we have learned that lack of sleep leads to cognitive short-circuiting and poor judgement, it is clear that a sleep-deprived employee is unfit for a day of work.

Common sleep disorders include sleep apnea (extended breathing during sleep), insomnia (difficulty falling asleep even when tired) and narcolepsy (opposite of insomnia, it is the inability to stay awake). Those who are unable to follow a regular sleep schedule are most affected by these conditions.

Restless Legs and Mental Health

Other sleep-robbing possibilities include teeth-grinding , sleep-walking, and jet lag. They all take their toll on healthy sleep patterns, as does one of the most descriptively-named sleep disorders, “restless legs syndrome.”

It seems that when one has this problem, the person has trouble sleeping well because they constantly feel the need to move their legs. It is largely involuntary for many. As a result, their sleep quality is poor, and sufferers feel tired during waking hours. (This would also be a problem for anyone sleeping in the same bed!)

Lack of sleep affects people in many ways, ranging from mild irritability to clinical depression. In fact, mental health and sleep are closely related.  Professional treatment for sleep disorders is increasingly available, and there is a growing body of knowledge on the subject.  The need for treatment must first be recognized, and then a host of life variables can be investigated.

The library has many books and other resources on the subject of sleep!

Tips and Tricks

Just how much sleep is necessary for good health? Some people can get by nicely with five or six hours nightly, while others need ten. The average requirement is seven to eight hours, according to the experts.

Some say that if you need an alarm clock to wake you, you’re not finished sleeping. It’s just as if you were pulled away from the table before you were finished eating.  Very unsatisfying!

As our knowledge of sleep increases, and treatment for disorders improves, today’s unsatisfied sleepers will have a better promise of sweet dreams. A few reminders to improve your chances of enjoying quality sleep follow:

  • Get up at the same time every day;
  • Go to bed only when sleepy;
  • Exercise regularly;
  • Maintain a regular schedule;
  • Avoid caffeine within four hours of bedtime;
  • Create a restful sleep area (no TV in the area is a good start);
  • Think of something pleasant (do not try to solve all your problems when your eyes close!)

Sweet dreams.

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