(This is something I received from my Rocking Body and figured I would share it with the rest of you!)
By Joe Wilkes
A couple of weeks ago, the Associated Professional Sleep Societies concluded its annual meeting in Baltimore. Many new theories about the health costs and benefits of a good or bad night's sleep were advanced, following on the heels of numerous sleep studies since the last time we talked about the effects of sleep on our health. Some of the results were quite a wake-up call. Although as it turns out, in many cases, a wake-up call is the last thing many of us need. Read on to learn about the latest findings in sleep research.
1. You should get 8 hours of sleep every night. The latest studies show that mortality rates were lowest among those who slept between 6.5 and 7.5 hours a night. People who slept much more or less had more health problems across the board. It was hard to tell why people who slept more had poorer health. There may have been a chicken-and-egg scenario where they may have slept more because they suffered from depression, alcoholism, or other debilitating mental illnesses that caused them to spend more time in bed. On the other hand, the people who didn't get enough sleep were prone to their own health problems, including problems resulting from stress and lack of concentration, alertness, and physical ability—not to mention falling asleep at the wheel.
2. You should keep the same bedtime every night. While it's preferable to keep a consistent routine and sleep schedule, it's not always possible. Experts now say that if you're a little more stressed out or anxious or just not tired, you're better off staying up than hitting the sack. Our bodies are the best gauge of when we need some shut-eye. Insomniacs often trap themselves into a cycle of anxiety wherein they can't get to sleep for fear of not being able to fall asleep. Instead of forcing yourself into bed at an arbitrary time when you're not tired, spend a little time doing a relaxing activity—reading, listening to music, meditating, taking a hot bath—and then go to bed when you feel like you're ready to lie down and close your eyes. Studies have shown that you're as likely to fall asleep then as when you force yourself to adhere to a self-imposed bedtime—you'll just enjoy the process of relaxing more and will sleep better.
3. Burning the midnight oil is more productive. Haven't we all pulled an all-nighter? It's a grand tradition that many feel provides its own inspiration. I know that I'm a self-avowed night owl, and you could never convince me that I could get more done in the morning than in the late hours of the night. But a study from the University of North Texas discovered that undergraduate students who were "morning" people had much higher grade point averages than their nocturnal counterparts. The night owls had significantly impaired concentration during the day and poorer memory. So apparently, "early to bed, early to rise" does "make a man healthy, wealthy, and wise" . . . or at least wise. The jury's still out on the others.
4. Exercising before bed will keep you awake. A Brazilian study showed that while heavy aerobic exercises and anaerobic/strength training exercises had little to poor effect on sleep patterns, light to moderate aerobic exercise, like a relaxing walk or a medium aerobic workout, actually helped people sleep better. The old saw about jumping around to "get the blood moving" actually proves to work the opposite way. People who engaged in a bit of light exercise before bed fell asleep more quickly and stayed asleep longer than the more sedentary members of the test group. A UCLA study also found that in older adults (59 to 86 years old), a regular tai chi regimen (regardless of when it was practiced) seemed to provide better sleep schedules and fewer sleep disturbances compared to doing nothing.
5. Sleep is the fountain of youth. That may be a stretch, but a University of Chicago study has shown a strong correlation between lack of deep sleep and physical decline as we age. They studied the level of human growth hormone production in study participants, and found that the people who slept longer in a state of deep sleep produced significantly more of the hormone, which contributes to muscle maintenance and lower body fat. When the participants' sleep was purposely disturbed by the scientists, they produced much less of the hormone. So both the quantity and the quality of the sleep was found to be important in the production of this antiaging hormone. Just think, if all those baseball players had gotten more good nights' sleep, we wouldn't be having Congressional hearings.
6. Insomniacs are more productive. A study from the Tufts New England Medical Centre in Boston found that in the four companies (airline, manufacturer, pharmaceutical company, and law firm) with a little over 4,000 total employees, the loss of productivity due to sleep issues added up to about $54 million. Much of these costs were attributed to prescriptions for sleep aids, sleep-related disorders like depression, and safety-related costs due to people falling asleep on the job. The rest had to do with general productivity loss. The study estimated the cost of insomnia as 2-1/2 weeks of productivity annually for every worker.
7. Spicy food gives you weird dreams. This actually may be true. A team of researchers from Australia found that participants who ate spicy meals before bed took longer to get to sleep and didn't sleep as long or as deeply as those who ate blander dishes. Some of the evidence is attributed to the obvious indigestion that can occur, but the slight elevation in body temperature caused by the zesty food was linked to poor sleep in previous studies. No real results as to the weird dreams or nightmares of the participants, but suffice it to say, spicy food doesn't equal sweet dreams or at least not good sleep.
Just like the little engine that could - we too can overcome and achieve greatness!
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