A good night’s sleep is an important part of living a healthy life. But why exactly do we sleep? How much sleep do we need and how can we ensure we get a good night’s sleep?

Why do we sleep?

Our body’s desire to sleep is controlled by the circadian and homeostatic processes. You’ve probably heard of the circadian process or the internal body clock as it’s often known. The homeostatic process refers to the way the pressure to sleep increases across the day and then decreases as we sleep. Both of these processes are influenced by our genetics but also by exercise, illness and our sleep patterns.

We often think that when we sleep nothing much is happening. But that’s not quite true. As we’re moving through the cycles of sleep, our bodies are consolidating our memories, transferring our short-term memories to our long-term memory. But that’s not all we’re doing. Our bodies need sleep to repair and renew, to grow new muscle or tissue and to recover from the day’s activities.

While science has yet to solve all the mysteries of sleep, we do know that it’s necessary to ensure we can stay healthy and well.

How much sleep do we need?

Many experts suggest adults need eight hours of sleep a night. The idea being that this is enough sleep to ensure you’re well rested. Of course, we’re all different and so while eight is the number usually suggested, some of us are good with only seven while others need nine. Children and teenagers generally need more sleep than adults. In addition, things like stress, illness or travel can influence the sleep you need.

The most important thing is to make sure you get enough sleep to feel rested, refreshed and alert and ready for your day.

Tips for a good night’s sleep

Consistent and healthy sleep habits are a good way to help you get a good night’s sleep. The following tips may help you ensure you’re well rested.

  • Go to sleep and wake up at the same time every day.
  • In the four to six hours before bed, avoid caffeine and alcohol.
  • Avoid exercising within two hours of going to bed. However, exercise five to six hours before bed can help you sleep.
  • Avoid eating big meals in the two hours before going to bed.
  • Establish a relaxing bedtime routine. This could include a warm bath, some time reading or music.
  • Turn off any screens, including TVs, mobile phones, laptops and tablets a good thirty minutes before bedtime as the light emitted by these devises can trick your brain into believing that it’s still daytime.
  • If you can, keep your bedroom dark, quiet and at a comfortable temperature—not too hot and not too cold.

If you’re struggling to get enough sleep or you’re not feeling rested and well regardless of how much sleep you’re getting, see your doctor.

Please note the information supplied is general in nature. Please consult your medical practitioner for individual advice.

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