Why Sleep Is So Important

Sleep is often thought of as a passive activity and a time of rest, but during sleep, your brain is very active. Getting quality sleep is vital for brain health, metabolism, and even cardiovascular health.

Sleeping at least 7 hours a night contributes to our sense of well-being and our ability to handle stress, and it improves our memory. Sleep allows our brain to recharge and reboot, and it is crucial for the secretion of many metabolic hormones, which affect the function of a variety of organs and systems.

Interestingly, there is a strong correlation between disordered sleep and obesity. Our bodies secrete stress hormones when we don’t sleep well, and these add to insulin resistance, which is the main cause of type 2 diabetes and obesity.

If you sleep poorly or have difficulty staying or getting to sleep, what should you do? First, sleep hygiene is critical to quality sleep: Your bedroom needs to be cool and dark, without a television or phone nearby. Reading before bedtime often helps, but avoid using tablets or phones.

If you snore or wake repeatedly during the night, or your partner notices periods of apnea (where you stop breathing and/or you sound like you’re gasping for breath)), you should consult a sleep specialist (these are usually pulmonologists or neurologists) and have a sleep test. Often, the initial version of this test is done at home. You are given a device that you wear while asleep, and the device then goes to a health-care professional who reviews the data to see if it suggests a sleep disorder. If the results of a home test are inconclusive, you may need to stay overnight at a sleep center, where many functions (like heart rate, temperature, brain waves, blood oxygen level, and eye and muscle movements) will be monitored.

There are many disorders of sleep, including insomnia, which is the inability to fall asleep or stay asleep. If you’re diagnosed with a sleep disorder, your doctor can recommend treatments that can improve your sleep. A treatment plan often includes making changes in sleep habits.

So look at your sleep habits and patterns carefully, and if you’re having any symptoms of apnea or insomnia, make an appointment with a sleep specialist. Once you’re sleeping better, you may be surprised at how much better you feel.

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