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Sleep for a Healthy Body: What We Know About Positive Sleep Hygiene

woman sleeping in bedI’m sure we can all agree there’s almost nothing more enjoyable than waking up after a refreshing, full night of sleep.

When it comes to sleep, there appears to be a healthy balance. Too little and we get irritable and can’t focus. Too much and we’re groggy and feel unrested. There’s something that happens to our bodies when we’re asleep. For all the research already done, we still cannot definitively say what sleep does for us.

That said, there are a number of things we know about sleep and its effect on our bodies.

Obviously, a good night’s sleep helps you to feel refreshed and gives you energy. Every night, we go through two different “styles” of sleep. Rapid Eye Movement (REM) sleep is characterized by a series of electrical flashes in your brain. There’s a lot of activity going on, and this is when you experience dreams and what causes you to move around during the night.

Non-Rapid Eye Movement (NREM) sleep encompasses most of the time you spend sleeping. During this time, your body’s temperature lowers and you tend not to move as much. In NREM, your body releases growth hormone which stimulates cell growth and regeneration. This is when your body’s tissues experience the most repair!

While we don’t understand how it happens, we do know that sleep is a key component of forming long term memory. And likewise, better sleep patterns result in better cognitive functioning. A 2013 study from Nature Neuroscience examined the effects of sleep in adults and children. The study asked participants to remember a sequence of buttons. All participants were asked to recall the sequence later, some of them had an opportunity to nap before recalling, while the others had to stay awake. The group who slept could recall the pattern better than the group who didn’t (and it was the kids who scored best on the test).

In another study from the Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience, it was determined that taking some sleeping pills can increase memory recall…but only for negative memories. Taking sleeping aids decreases sleep spindle activity (bouts of brain activity.) This study shows us that by changing the physiology of your brain, you change how positive and negative emotions are stored.

We’ve only scratched the surface of what sleep can do for us, and there’s lots more to learn. There’s no doubt, however, that sleep is necessary and good for us. So when you settle down for the night, know that you’re doing something great for yourself!

Now it’s your turn: what does a good night’s sleep mean to you?

Share your experiences about sleep. How has good sleep impacted your life, your work, and your family? Add your comment below to join the discussion!

By Dr. Sean de Lima Thiel

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