“An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.”
Your family physician will tell you this quaint, time-honored expression has a lot of merit. And that’s why your doctor would love to see you develop the simple daily health habits that help prevent the sort of maladies he’ll have to treat if you don’t.
Eat right… exercise regularly… drink your water and take your vitamins. These are simple things anyone can (and everyone should) do.
But don’t forget to make sure you’re getting enough sleep, too.
In the past, the medical profession often ignored the power of a good night’s sleep in helping prevent disease, and in creating better health in patients of all ages. But these days, your family health practitioner is “wide awake” to the benefits of good sleep habits for his patients.
Most experts agree: you need about eight hours of good sleep, every night. You may have heard that before… and maybe since you were a kid. It turns out to be true!
Studies have shown that people who get less than 6-7 hours of sleep every night are much more vulnerable to disease and poorer overall health.
Are you getting enough sleep?
You Need Sleep For Several Good Reasons
It’s a medical fact: there are several good reasons why a healthy dose of shut-eye is, well, healthy:
- Sleep is good for your most important organs. When you don’t sleep well (or enough), your blood vessels don’t get a chance to sufficiently rejuvenate. Your blood pressure tends to increase. Your circulatory system isn’t functioning at its best, so your cholesterol level will likely climb. All of this spells potential trouble for your heart (lack of sleep has been linked to heart-attack risk…) and your brain (… as well as the risk of stroke).
- Sleep reduces stress, inflammation, and even your risk of developing cancer. It’s true: tumors have a harder time developing when the body produces the right level of melatonin, which is the hormone that regulates (and is affected by) your sleep cycle. People who sleep well have a lower risk of developing other diseases, too (like depression). When you don’t sleep, you also put your body into “stress mode,” which causes it to produce chemicals that make it even harder to relax and fall asleep (creating a vicious cycle). And inflammation – the culprit of many health problems (including premature aging) is greatly reduced when you get the right amount of sleep.
- Sleep improves memory and alertness. While your body’s resting during sleep, your mind is processing – dreaming – and studies have shown this process to be a great aid in retaining memory. And naturally, you’re more alert and energetic after a good night’s sleep… you get more done, and you’re just more active. That means you’re more likely to get another good night’s sleep (creating a virtuous cycle). Don’t you “feel smarter” after you’ve slept well?
- Sleep helps you lose (or maintain) weight. When you miss out on good sleep, your hormonal balance is disrupted. The hormones that regulate your appetite can be thrown out of balance, as well as the body chemicals that help your overall fat metabolism. Study after study has shown that good sleepers have a much easier time maintaining a healthy body weight.
- And sleep helps you heal. Even if you aren’t sick or injured, your body endures a bit of damage every day, from stress, exposure to UV rays, even just the typical wear-and-tear of using your muscles. Only during sleep can your body properly renew and repair itself.
Developing Good Sleep Habits Pays Healthy Dividends
If you don’t feel like you get enough sleep, you can develop some practices that will help.
Try to stick to a consistent bedtime – you want your body to get used to a “normal” sleep pattern upon which it can rely.
Because of the way light affects the body’s ability to produce melatonin, it’s best if you can sleep in the dark. Even if your work schedule requires you to do your sleeping during the day, try to darken the room as much as possible.
Don’t use electronics right before bed. Doing so interferes with the body’s ability to relax enough to get good, deep sleep.
Learn deep-breathing techniques to help relax your body and mind before bed.
Some people also benefit from the use of herbal sleep aids… there are several good brands available over-the-counter.
Relax and snooze. It’s good for you. And if you feel like good, restful sleep is the missing piece to your overall health picture, talk to your family health practitioner for more ideas on becoming a better sleeper. Your doctor wants you to rest assured!
This is a guest post written by Anthony Cerullo. He is working at Founders Family Medicine and Urgent Care in Castle Rock as one of the urgent care providers.