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Sleeping Throughout Our Lives

We spend a large portion of our lives sleeping, which is why getting quality sleep is absolutely so vital.

But many people totally underestimate how a lack of sleep can negatively affect our health, work, and cognitive capacity.

Not only is the length and quality of sleep so very important, but neuroscientists now believe that maintaining a regular sleep schedule is key to maintaining our bodies’ circadian rhythm.

Our circadian rhythm helps to regulate our bodily functions and a healthy circadian rhythm has been linked to improved mood, less fatigue, healthier weight, greater cognitive capacity, and overall long-term health, according to the Sleep and Circadian Neuroscience Institute at Oxford University.

Conversely, when our routines don’t align with our circadian rhythm our bodies try to compensate by releasing stress and hunger hormones, increasing blood sugar, and raising blood pressure. So if you’re a bit irritable, perhaps take a nap.

Sleep is so important that prolonged sleep deprivation or misalignment with our circadian rhythm can even result in mental illness, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, obesity, and fertility issues.

Credit: Wikimedia Commons // Raparound

Our own circadian rhythms are not set in stone and evolve as we age.

Younger people tend to be at peak alertness later in the day, while older people are at peak alertness in the morning.

However, the International Agency for Research on Cancer estimates that more than half of our modern, industrialized population have mismatched circadian rhythms to their daily schedules.

If you feel like you struggle getting quality sleep, you’re not alone.

The American Academy of Sleep Medicine found that 50 to 70 million people in the U.S. have some kind of chronic sleep disorder (such as sleep apnea), and roughly one in three Americans report symptoms of insomnia.

While not everybody requires the same amount of sleep, the National Sleep Foundation guidelines recommend that people aged 18 to 64 get between seven and nine hours of sleep a night, and people over the age of 64 get seven to eight hours per night.

Sleep deprivation can also have serious economic consequences.

A lack of sleep can affect productivity, concentration, and efficiency. It can also lead to increased healthcare costs and traffic accidents.

A study of more than 6,800 road accidents concluded that people who got less than four hours sleep the night before an accident were 15 times more likely to be at fault than those who got more than seven hours sleep.

In 2016, The Rand Corporation found that the equivalent of 1.23 million working days are lost annually in the U.S due to sleep deprivation; resulting in between $280 and $411 billion of economic losses.

There are ways to improve both the quality and quantity of our sleep.

Researchers suggest maintaining a regular sleep schedule, sleeping in a dark, quiet, cool room, avoiding exercise, caffeine, and alcohol too close to bedtime, and removing unnecessary technology from your bedroom.

If those simpler remedies don’t work, it may be time to contact your doctor to explore further options such as talk or light therapy, physical appliances to clear your airways, or medication to help get your sleep back on track.

Even The Beatles were aware of the importance of sleep, as they sang in their 1969 hit Golden Slumbers for a woman to “Sleep, pretty darling.”

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