Body Over Mind Part 4: Good Night, Good Rest

Body Over Mind Part 4: Good Night, Good Rest

A few years back, Ranjan Das, CEO of SAP India died of a heart attack. At 42 years, he was the youngest CEO of a multinational company in India. His death from a heart attack came as a shock to all who knew him. Ranjan Das was a role model to many. He was young, energetic, hardworking and ambitious. He ate right, was active in sports, worked out everyday, was a marathon runner and had no vices like smoking or drinking.

The question on everyone's mind was, "how can someone who is so active, energetic and athletic succumb to heart attack at a young age of 42 years?" True that CEO jobs are stressful. But doesn't a proper diet and fitness routine help one to cope effectively with stress?

Further investigations revealed that Ranjan Das used to sleep only 4-5 hours daily. Doctors are of the opinion that this could have been the cause of his death.

At the cost of one unfortunate, early death, many of us learnt the value of a good night's rest. Having said this, not all of us manage to get it. In fact, many of us are clueless as to how much sleep is recommended for a layman. We are also challenged with creating time in our busy scheduled to get this recommended sleep. In this article, I aim to address these concerns.

How much sleep is recommended?Most doctors and health experts recommend 7-9 hours of nighttime sleep. Less than 7 hours of sleep is like playing with fire, even if one has low levels of stress.

Why the emphasis on night time sleep?Doctors recommend continuous nighttime sleep. Various research findings have shown that day time sleep or sleep binge on the weekends cannot compensate for lack of night sleep. To understand the importance of nighttime sleep, one has to understand sleep architecture.

Sleep is composed of two stages, REM and non-REM. During the night, a person alternates between REM and non-REM stages 4-5 times.

• REM (Rapid Eye Movement): This is the latter part of the sleep which helps in mental consolidation. This part of sleep helps you to be mentally alert during the day.
• Non-REM: This happens in the earlier part of sleep. During this period, body's pituitary gland releases growth hormones that repairs your body. This part of your sleep helps in physical repair and rebuilding

If you have slept for less than 6 hours, your body is in a complete physical mess (lack of non-REM sleep), you are tired throughout the day, moving like a zombie, less alert and your immunity is way down (REM sleep).

Impact of less sleep
Most people tend to feel groggy, unfocused, sleepy, irritable and emotional with just one night of less than 6 hours of sleep. Just this one night of short sleep won't put you at any serious risk, but one week can. After just seven nights of too little sleep, researchers observed more than 700 genetic changes that could play a role in consequences including heart problems and obesity, according to a recent study. Given below are some of the serious repercussions of short sleep:

1. Increase in risk of stroke: A 2012 research states that short sleep can increase your risk of stroke even in the absence of typical risk factors, like being overweight or having a family history of stroke. Adults who regularly slept fewer than six hours a night had four times the risk of stroke symptoms, HuffPost reported.

2. Obesity: According to a 2012 review of 18 studies of sleep and appetite, less thank 6 hours of sleep increases the production of the hunger hormone ghrelin and limits leptin (hormones that help the body to balance food intake). As a result, the sleep deprived person develops hunger pangs, craves for junk food, and tends to eat larger portions of food at frequent intervals, leading to weight gain and obesity.

3. Diabetics risk: A pair of small studies in 2012 examined the link between poor sleep and insulin resistance, a risk factor for diabetics. The first study found that among healthy teenagers, the shortest sleepers had the highest insulin resistance. This means that their body is not using insulin effectively. The second study examined fat cells, in particular, and found that lesser sleep increased insulin resistance in these cells, even when diet and calorie intake were restricted. In other words, less than 6 hours of sleep upped one's risk of getting diabetics.

4. Risk of memory loss: You must have experienced how tired, forgetful and unfocused you feel after a night of less sleep. Prolonged period of sleeplessness can lead to permanent cognitive issues. The lesser we sleep, the lesser we benefit from the memory-storing properties of sleep. According to a 2013 study, lack of sleep can cause brain deterioration.

5. Osteoporosis: In a 2012 study conducted on rats, researchers found changes to bone mineral density and bone marrow in the rodents when they were deprived of shuteye over a period of 72 days. Steven R. Goodman, Ph.D., editor-in-chief of Experimental Biology and Medicine, said in a statement, "if true in humans and I expect that it may be, this work will have great impact on our understanding of the impact of sleep deprivation on osteoporosis and inability to repair bone damage as we age".

6. Higher risk of cancer: A small (but growing) body of research suggests that short and poor sleep can up risk for certain types of cancer. A 2010 study found that among 1,240 people screened for colorectal cancer, the 338 who were diagnosed were more likely to average fewer than six hours of sleep a night. Even after controlling for more traditional risk factors, polyps were more common in people who slept less, according to the study. Getting just 6 hours of sleep a night has also been linked to an increase of recurrence in breast cancer patients. The study's author recommends more and better sleep as a pathway to reduce risk and recurrence of cancer.

7. Heart disease: A 2011 research shows that less than 6 hours of sleep can cause the body to produce more of the chemicals and hormones that can lead to heart disease. People who slept for 6 hours or less each night or had problems with sleeping well, had a 48% higher risk of developing or dying from heart disease.8. Grave danger: It's not just heart problems that can lead to sleep-deprivation-related death. TIME reported that short sleepers seem to die younger of any cause than people who sleep about 6.5 to 7.5 hours a night.

Tips to sleep well
Many of the factors mentioned above are well known. Yet may of us are unable to manage 7-9 hours of sleep every night. Work and home pressure, and lifestyle impact our sleep patterns. Some people also experience that their minds are unable to 'switch off'. Their minds are over-active and they may constantly be thinking of the day's events or projects they wish to complete or accomplish.

Given below are few tips to help you get ideal sleep. You can customise these based on your unique lifestyle:

1. Develop a Sleep Routine
Most of us tend to have late nights on weekends. You might have experienced how difficult it is to catch up on sleep after just one late night even if you have the luxury to sleep in the next day. Going to bed at the same time every night helps to establish your internal sleep/wake clock and reduces the amount of effort required to fall asleep.

2. Exercise
Researchers in Northwestern University's Department of Neurobiology and Physiology reported that previously sedentary adults who got aerobic exercise four times a week improved their sleep quality from poor to good. A stimulated body also houses a stimulated mind. Therefore, sometimes, even if one is physically tired, an active mind can disallow one to fall asleep. Just ensure that you wrap up your workout session several hours before bedtime so that you're not too revved up to get a good night's sleep and to ensure that neither your mind nor your body is over-stimulated.

3. Watch your diet
If you have problems falling asleep at night, make efforts to cut out caffeinated food and drinks like coffee, tea, soft drinks and chocolates post afternoon. In most households, dinner is the family mealtime and so, it tends to be heavier than other meals of the day. Try to make dinner your lightest meal. Follow the principle of "eat breakfast like a King, lunch like a Prince and dinner like a Pauper". This is a good lesson on healthy eating habits to teach your kids as well. Try to have your dinner 2-3 hours before bedtime. Also avoid very spicy or rich food at night as they take time to digest and can cause heartburn and disturb your sleep.

4. Cut down on smoking
A study found that smokers are four times more likely to not feel as well rested after a full night's sleep than nonsmokers. Researchers at Johns Hopkins School of Medicine attribute this to the stimulative effect of nicotine and the nighttime withdrawal from it. Smoking also exacerbates sleep apnea and other breathing disorders such as asthma, which can make it difficult to get restful sleep. Cut down on smoking, or best just give it up totally.

5. Stay-off electronics
Most of us use some type of electronic gadget before we sleep; a cell phone, television, notepad, computer or video game is active till a few minutes before going to bed.
Research has shown that this impacts the quality of sleep adversely. Light from these devices stimulates the brain, making it harder to wind down. Put away your electronic gadgets an hour before bedtime to fall asleep more quickly and sleep more soundly.

6. Black-out time
Light tells your brain that it's time to wake up. To get sound sleep, make your room as dark as possible. Even a small amount of light can disrupt the production of melatonin (a hormone that helps regulate sleep cycles) and overall sleep. Try using dark heavy curtains and eye mask, if ambient light disturbs you.

7. Bed means "My Sleep Arena"
Often we land up working or eating on our bed. Your bed should be associated only with sleeping. In case, due to lack of space, you use your bed for working, eating or watching television also, ensure that all these activities are done at least an hour before your bedtime and that you clear out your bed completely. To make your sleep more comfortable, it will help to dust the sheets and make your bed afresh. Nothing like a cool, freshly made bed to sleep on.Keeping your bedroom neat and orderly will also help to settle into a good night's sleep.

8. Soothing music and relaxing hobby
Soothing music can help calm and relax an over stimulated mind. Also, taking up a hobby that will help divert the mind from the day's events or just focusing on breathing will help relax the mind.

If you have trouble sleeping, we hope these tips help you. In case you have other strategies you have implemented and have found them helpful, please do share.

Besides all the health benefits, sleep is truly beautiful. It is a space where one is in one's natural self, unpretentious and in synch with oneself. We all deserve to reward ourselves with adequate sleep at the end of a long day.

Anupama Easwaran is the co founder at in.harmony and a trained counselor with 19 years of work experience in employee wellness, business development, client servicing, marketing, brand & event management. She is a fitness enthusiast, has diverse interests like reading, acting, painting and firmly believes in living life to the fullest.

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