Sleep, I mean.
(Chuckles to myself)
This afternoon, realizing that I could resist it no more, I took a nap. Wrapped up in my huge comforter and feeling the coolness of my Egyptian cotton sheets against my skin, I realized that there is no pleasure in life greater than that of sleep (although I can only speak for myself). I just love the feeling of the bed supporting me, almost holding me up in a sense, and for a few hours at least, I wouldn’t need to fight so hard just to keep on breathing.
But I know I’m not getting enough. People say a person needs about 6-8 hours of sleep to function properly. On some nights I would be lucky to get about 5, and often neglecting the fact that since high school, enough time has passed so to subject me to the minor injustice that accompanies aging, now even the usual functional minimum of 6 hours is starting to leave me feeling groggy the next day.
A while ago, I read in a health magazine about the benefits of sleep*, with much of it being hidden benefits. Below are its “magic powers” mentioned in the article. Check out what we are missing!
1. Live longer and healthier: lack of sleep has been linked to an increased risk of heart diseases, diabetes, weight gain and other health problems, as it tends to undermine your immune system.
Personal take: It’s true. I have friends who regularly don’t get enough sleep throughout a semester. They not only get hit with colds and flus more often, but also experience a persistent cough that could last for months.
2. Feel happier and less stressed: people who don’t get enough sleep can become depressed, which can cause insomnia due to higher rates of stress hormones. Your body tenses up, and remains in a hyper-roused state. On the other hand, getting enough good sleep can make you feel more positive about life and its outlooks!
Personal take: Ever been a “night-owl”? Going to bed when the sun comes up and waking up when the sky’s getting dark? I’ve done that a few times, and it doesn’t feel too good. You end up feeling like you’ve wasted most of your day. I’ve found that being awake and looking sharp at early mornings (definition of “early morning”: 8 am) usually puts me in a good mood. I feel almost “in sync” with the world as it becomes alive and things are once again set in motion, and being a part of this process energizes me.
3. Look good: People who are limited to only 4 to 5 hours of sleep a night experience changes in their metabolism that is similar to those occurring with normal aging. Growth hormone, which is essential to maintaining muscle mass and beautiful skin, is secreted during your most restorative and deepest sleep.
Personal take: I usually feel more confident the morning after 8 hours of quality sleep. My skin is more luminous, my eyes are brighter and I’m more alert, which always comes in handy when combating a busy schedule.
4. Build a better brain: Study shows that not having enough sleep can have cognitive and physical effects similar to those brought on by alcohol over-consumption: the performance of a woman who’s been awake for 17 hours straight is comparative to her having a blood-alcohol level of 0.05 percent (about 2 drinks an hour). Sleeping well positively affects your concentration, problem-solving skills, memory and mood.
Personal take: I don’t know how you kids do it, but I always end up doing so badly on an exam if I pull an all-nighter to study for it the night before. It’s tough because there just isn’t enough time to study sometimes, and we all hope that by pulling an all-nighter, we’d end up experiencing some sort of a miracle. To sleep or not to sleep, that, is the question.
5. Slim down: Insufficient sleep lowers the level of leptin, a hormone that makes you feel full, and increases the level of ghrelin, the hormone that signals hunger. Sleep-deprivation also makes you crave for high-carb and high-sugar foods, thus increasing your risk for developing type 2 diabetes.
Personal take: When I stay up later than 2 am, I usually get so hungry that I start craving really greasy or really sugary food. It’s a terrible lifestyle. Don’t try this at home.
Different people have different problems with sleep. Below are some helpful tips taken from Self Magazine:
- Routine matters! No matter when you end up going to bed, set your alarm clock so you end up waking up at the same time every morning, even on weekends. Regularity helps your body learn when to be sleepy and when to be awake.
- Don’t do work in bed. Mentally associate your bed with sleep and other relaxing activities only, and you’ll snooze away more peacefully when the time comes.
- Avoid caffeine, bright light, nicotine, alcohol, exercise and eating immediately before bedtime. Wind down both physically and mentally. Do Sudoku, listen to some chill-out tunes (check out Bebel Gilberto), write a bit in a journal…nothing that would get your adrenaline going.
- Stop overworking your brain. Calm an overly active mind by jotting down your thoughts on a to-do list. After all, tomorrow’s another day.
- Dim the lights from electronic devices. The glowing numbers from your alarm clock, and even your laptop screen, might confuse your brain and make it think it’s day time. Turn off your laptop at least an hour before you hit the sack, and throw a dark cloth over your alarm clock if the backlight can’t be dimmed.
- Say a prayer. Even if you are not religious, mental recitations help to calm the chaos in your mind. Sometimes I’d lie in bed thinking up things I’m grateful for, and before I know it, I’ve passed out for the night.
- Turn on a fan or CD of nature noises. Subtle, steady sound lulls you and blocks out distractions.
- Exercise for 30 minutes during the day. You’ll be physically tired even if you don’t plan to be, and I can almost guarantee that your sleep will be a sound one.
- Take a long, hot shower about 20-30 minutes before going to bed. Studies have shown that hot shower makes your brain secrete melatonin, which is an important regulator of circadian rhythms. This is also why a lot of people prefer cold showers in the morning: so they wouldn’t feel sleepy half an hour later.
Well, it’s now 2:20 am. It’s amazing how early morning always makes me feel like I’m running out of time. But since I’ve just written this post, I guess my only choice is to sleep on my troubles and hope the best for tomorrow (and for the rest of my life). Take care people, and good luck with your midterms!!
*Courtesy of Best Health Magazine, November/December 2008