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Zzz Your Way to Health

We all know the two main secrets to a healthy life: diet and exercise. Diet—one of the secrets to living a healthy life is eating right. Avoiding fatty foods and controlling your carbohydrate intake have been known to significantly decrease heart-related risks and keep the mind and body alert and energized. Exercise—the other secret to a healthy life is spending time on a regular basis to stretch those limbs and move those muscles. Keeping the body in motion keeps sickness at bay and helps maintain a strong defense against various diseases. However, did you know that there is a third secret to living a healthy life?

I read a news article once about a man who died in his 40s. Everyone who knew him were surprised because he led a very healthy life. He would watch what he ate, and he exercised every morning like clockwork. When they investigated further, they finally found out the cause of his death—lack of sleep.

It may seem unbelievable and perhaps even absurd that sleep had anything to do with the man’s death, what with him leading such a healthy lifestyle, but sleep and health are so much more interrelated than we think. We may not see it with our own eyes, but a lot of our body’s much-needed processes take place during sleep.

For one, sleep is good for the brain. It is during sleep that the brain builds new connections and retains memories. Without enough sleep, signals to the brain are delayed, leading to poor coordination. Even worse, it may lead to accidents. For example, prolonged lack of sleep can develop what is called a microsleep, which is an episode wherein you fall asleep for just a few seconds or minutes without you realizing it. This leads to serious accidents ranging from trips or falls to fatal car accidents.

We may not admit it, but lack of sleep actually affects our emotional state. Having less than the recommended hours of sleep makes us more impatient and prone to mood swings. This, in the long-run, may impede our creativity and compromise our decision-making.

Remember how I said diet and exercise help build the body’s defenses against sickness? Well, so does sleep, because during sleep, our immune system produces what are called cytokines, which are what combat various bacteria and viruses. Long-term effects of the absence of cytokines are diabetes and heart disease, which we will get to shortly.

Not getting enough sleep also affects our breathing. The more sleep you have, the more proper you breathe. Breathing improperly may lead to several sicknesses, such as sleep apnea, the common cold, and flu.

Sleep and appetite are closely connected as well. Sleep controls two hormones: leptin and ghrelin, which signal the brain levels of fullness and hunger respectively. The more leptin, the fuller we feel; the more ghrelin, the hungrier we are. The right amount of sleep keeps these two levels in check. However, the more deprived we are of sleep, the more disrupted these levels become, i.e., the less leptin and the more ghrelin is released. This is what makes us guilty of all those midnight snacks. In addition, sleep deprivation leads to more insulin released in the body. The long-term effects of all of which lead to obesity and diabetes.

When it comes to the heart (literally), sleep is essential in repairing blood vessels. The heart of someone who does not get enough sleep is more prone to increased blood pressure, heart attack, and stroke.

Lastly, the right amount of sleep is vital for hormone production. During sleep, hormones necessary for building muscles and repairing cells and tissues are produced.

Are you getting enough sleep? How much is enough anyway? The recommended amount is from 7 to 9 hours of sleep every day. And in order to maintain this healthy number, Stephanie Watson and Kristeen Cherney recommend the following:

Limit daytime naps. Sleeping in the middle of the day disrupts the 7- to 9-hour sleep cycle that your body needs at night.

Refrain from caffeine past noon. Because caffeine is a strong stimulant, drinking caffeinated beverages at odd hours may keep us awake way past our bedtime.

Go to and get out of bed at a fixed time. This is important to establish a healthy sleeping pattern.

Read a book or take a bath an hour before going to bed. This will help you relax and set yourself up the right sleeping mood.

Avoid heavy meals at least 2 hours before bedtime. The fuller you feel before bedtime, the more unlikely you will feel sleepy. Also, sleeping with a full stomach may lead to nightmares and possibly even dying in your sleep.

Refrain from using electronic devices. The blue light from electronic gadgets act as stimulants that actually keep you more awake than sleepy.

Exercise regularly. Working out, especially every morning, helps your body keep a regular sleeping pattern.

While diet and exercise are important to keeping a healthy life, don’t discount how vital it also is to stick to the recommended number of hours of sleep every day. Trust me, your body will thank you for it in the long-run. Now if you’ll excuse me, it’s late. Time for me to go to bed. Goodnight, and here’s to your good health!



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