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We’ve all heard that a good night’s sleep is important, but not many of us are aware of how integral sleep is to our overall wellbeing. Sleep specialists – or polysomnographers – suggest that we get between 7 to 8 hours of shut-eye a night and they suggest that that going to bed around 10pm is the most effective time to hit the pillow.

Getting proper sleep is like laying a solid foundation on which to build. If you’re getting sufficient sleep, you set yourself up for optimal activity and health throughout the day.

There are five stages of sleep, the last of which is called REM (rapid eye movement), and a full sleep cycle usually takes 90- minutes. REM sleep is, perhaps, the most important because it helps the brain form new memories, stimulates the central nervous system, and restores brain chemistry to a normal balance.

In a recent study, 82% of people who had a regular sleep pattern found it easier to stick to a healthy diet or exercise routine, and 74% found it easier to maintain a healthy weight over time. It appears that getting sufficient quality sleep is as important as regular exercise and a healthy, balance diet.

Quality sleep promotes: 1) concentration and memory, 2) healing and a strengthening of the immune system, 3) better athleticism, and 4) reduced appetite.

Low quality, or lack of sleep, the other hand has a host of negative effects: 1) an increased risk of heart attack (45% increase) and stroke (15% increase), 2) negative emotional reactions with depression and anxiety increasing as sleep levels drop, 3) increased inflammation in the body and an exacerbation of existing inflammatory conditions such as irritable bowel syndrome, diabetes, or cancer, 4) a reduction in social skills and confidence, and 5) increased production of the hormone ghrelin, which stimulates appetite and lowers the levels of leptin, the hormone that tells us we’re full. All of which causes us to eat more and gain weight.

A recent Harvard University study determined that going 24 hours without sleep had the same effect on the brain as having a blood alcohol level of 0.10 (the legal limit in the US is 0.08), so simply going one day without sleep has the same effect as severe intoxication on your ability to think, process, and react.

When we’re tired, we eat more, drink more caffeine, exercise less, and we stress more. It becomes a vicious circle. So try breaking the circle by establishing healthy sleep patterns. Try hitting the pillow by 10pm, avoid using computers, tablets, and smart phones for up to two hours before bedtime, and try meditating, gentle yoga, or reading to help calm the mind. Establish a bedtime routine that signals the brain to enter sleep mode. It takes the human body 21 days of doing something to establish a pattern of behavior, so try a new, health sleep routine for the next 3 weeks. You’ll be glad you did!