I can still remember as a child learning the rhyme, "Early to bed, early to rise, makes a man healthy, wealthy and wise." Wouldn't it be nice if that's all there was to it?
First, let me dispel two common myths that you may be thinking right now: one, that you need less sleep as you get older, and two, that you can make up for lost sleep or "fool" your body by sleeping during the daytime. The human body is innately programmed to sleep during dark phases of the day and be awake during light phases. And each of us, regardless of age, requires between seven and nine hours of sleep a day to remain healthy. Consistently ignoring these natural laws will almost guarantee health problems in the future. Strangely, it may take as much as 20 or 30 years for these problems to fully surface, and researchers are now looking more closely into these longer-term effects.
Researchers reported that those students who had sleeping problems as young men experienced twice the amount of clinical depression 30 years later. Another study has found that when sleep patterns are interrupted, the natural killer cell (NKC) levels of your immune system are significantly reduced. NKC levels have a direct influence on your body's ability to fight off everything from the common cold to life-threatening bacteria and viruses. Chronically suppressing their levels by disrupting your sleep patterns can lead to a severely weakened immune system and increase your risk of serious illness.
The Melatonin Connection
Probably the most interesting and useful research I've seen in this area deals with the effects of nighttime light exposure on levels of the hormone melatonin. Many of the important physiological events that take place during sleep are directly linked to the production of melatonin. Melatonin is produced and released during periods of darkness by the pineal gland, which is located deep within the brain. At the National Institutes of Health, researchers found that exposing sleeping individuals to light disrupts their melatonin levels and internal body clock--even if they continue to sleep. Light acts like a switch that triggers a chemical chain of events that stops the production of melatonin. Night after night, week after week of this seemingly insignificant nighttime light exposure can be contributing to fatigue, insomnia, depression, a weakened immune system, and a long list of other health problems-including cancer.
Think of Sleep as an Investment in Your Future
Even though we spend as much as a third of our life sleeping, it seems that most of us just take it for granted. I'm convinced you can prevent hundreds of different health problems by modifying and improving your sleep. Naturally increasing your nightly melatonin levels has far more positive ramifications than just enhancing sleep. It could stave off future bouts of depression, minimize fatigue and, according to the latest research, even slow the aging process and increase life span by slightly lowering the body's core temperature. Best of all, it provides a free nightly boost to your immune system and a healthy dose of natural, anticancer potion.
Now it’s your turn: How many hours of sleep do you get a night? How do you prepare for a good night’s rest?
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