Problems sleeping are often referred to as insomnia, which can mean different things to different people. It is commonly defined as experiencing regular periods where you:
- Have difficulty falling asleep (on average taking more than 30 minutes to nod off).
- Wake up frequently during the night and have difficulty getting back to sleep.
- Wake up too early in the morning and are unable to return to sleep.
- Wake up tired or exhausted, which can persist through the day making you feel irritable, anxious or depressed.
Not only does a lack of sleep make you more prone to stress, but long term it increases your risk of poor health. For example, research shows that you’re more than twice as likely to feel anxious and depressed.1Your blood may also begin to clot abnormally, putting you at raised risk of heart attack or stroke.2 A chronic sleep debt also almost doubles your chances of being obese3 and it’s linked with diabetes too.4 As if this wasn’t enough, lack of sleep triggers the stress response and increases an inflammatory marker called CRP, which is a strong predictor of heart disease.5 Your mental health can also suffer.
Clearly, if sleep is a problem for you, it needs addressing if you want to reduce your stress, improve your health and decrease your risk of disease. But before we look at ways to enhance your slumber, let’s first understand the different stages of sleep and why it’s so valuable.
The stages of sleep
We spend just under a third of our lives asleep, but far from being unproductive downtime, sleep encompasses different stages that are vital for keeping our bodies in a good state of repair and helping our brains to process and assimilate the activity we experience in the day.
If you follow an undisturbed sleep pattern, when you first drift off, you enter a period of light sleep which deepens as you become disengaged from your surroundings. Your body temperature starts to drop a little and your brain waves slow down. All being well, after about 30 minutes, you enter a period of deep sleep when your heart rate slows, your blood pressure drops and ......
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