On the importance of sleep to health

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Many people think of sleep as reasonably optional. Is that true? Having poor sleeping habits is not usually something that one can get away with without causing health problems. One’s hormonal health, physical health, mental health, and energy levels all depend on one’s sleeping habits. Insomnia can quickly become a curse and not merely a minor annoyance, and many people who are capable of getting to sleep reliably are still chronically underslept. One is not likely to be able to get away with a poor diet or a lack of exercise in the long run, and sleeping at irregular hours or not sleeping enough is just as hard to get away with.

From children to the elderly, poor sleepers are commonplace. Many people of all ages claim that four or five hours of sleep per night is all they need, but they do not realize how much their health would improve if they were to sleep more often. Modern technology is interfering with and worsening our sleeping habits. Researchers at California State University, studying the psychology of technology, have identified a few specific problems stemming from technology’s effect on our sleeping habits. One is “poor executive functioning,” which involves a short attention span, difficulty concentrating, vulnerability to addictions that are not technology related, and difficulty making decisions. Another is anxiety – frequent use of technology overstimulates the brain and makes a person nervous. Many heavy smartphone users, especially those who sleep little but to a lesser extent those who do not, can feel nervous whenever they are away from their phones. Sometimes, a heavy smartphone user can awaken during the night feeling the need to check their phones, as their minds have learned to consider their messages to be of the highest importance.

Does anxiety about needing to stay connected cause sleep problems? A person who always feels like they need to be connected often uses their phones right up until they go to sleep, which makes falling asleep more difficult. Overstimulating the brain can also reduce sleep quality. Someone who drinks caffeine to excess can sometimes fall asleep right after drinking caffeine – but is likely to sleep poorly and not wake up rested in the morning.

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Smartphones, computers, and televisions should probably be thought of as stress-increasing rather than stress-reducing devices. Computer use causes the brain to produce cortisol. Occasional cortisol is good because it helps you focus, but it is also a stress hormone that will lead to mental health problems if it is produced continuously throughout the day. This is partly due to the blue light that screens emit, which can be blocked using computer problems such as flux. Avoiding screen use for the last hour or a few hours before bed can prevent insomnia, causing cortisol from being produced when it is least needed. The national sleep foundation has found that an average person has been sleeping less and less over the last five decades. Sleep clears out the brain and keeps a person sane. Rest has a physical effect on the brain. The brain renews its synapses and removes connections that are no longer necessary when one is unconscious. If a person doesn’t sleep much or doesn’t sleep well, they end up with a detectably lower quality brain than a person with better sleeping habits. Thankfully, the damage is temporary, and returning to better sleeping habits will heal whatever problems the sleep deprivation initially caused.

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