Sleep and Good Health

It’s been estimated that around 30% of health issues are in some way related to people getting insufficient sleep. Most physicians advise that eight hours of uninterrupted sleep is normal, and an industry has grown up around this general prescription to supply sleeping pills and other sleep aids to people seeking this supposedly desirable outcome. Yet the data against sleeping pills is becoming persuasive, indicating that they bring various health risks of their own including an elevated risk of cancer and a higher mortality rate than the norm for equivalent cohorts. So it seems that taking sleeping pills may be worse for an individual’s health than lack of sufficient sleep itself.

In addition, the idea that humans evolved to sleep in one long stretch for eight or nine hours at a time is not supported by historical and anthropological evidence. In fact, since 2001 various publications have reported that in societies without access to artificial light, and in all societies prior to the invention of street lighting (which brought about major social change in the pattern of after-dark activity) people followed a sleep pattern quite different to the so-called “normal sleep pattern” that most people strive for today./

Data seems to show conclusively that the normal sleep pattern for humans is so fall asleep an hour or two after dusk, sleep for four hours, and then wake for a period of two or three hours before falling asleep again until dawn. This pattern leaves sleepers more refreshed and alert than an eight-hour straight period of sleep. Unfortunately, most people who wake in the middle of the night become anxious that they aren’t sleeping, so falling asleep again becomes difficult. Furthermore, contemporary work and life patterns don’t readily accommodate this natural sleep pattern. Many people stay up late watching TV and rise early in order to commute to work. The results are both ill-health and a dependence on drugs to induce a sleep which lacks many of the properties necessary for true restfulness.

    A wide variety of health issues arise from insufficient sleep, including:
  • Fatigue
  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Headaches
  • Sensitivity to cold
  • Weight gain
  • Bowel disorders
  • Short temper
  • Difficulty in concentrating
  • Depressed immune system
    • The best way to get a good night’s sleep seems to be:
    • Don’t attempt any stressful activity in the two hours prior to going to bed
    • Don’t drink much alcohol, don’t drink any caffeine-containing beverages, and don’t eat salty food in the evening
    • Go to bed early, so as to allow time for a sleep-wake-sleep cycle
    • Sleep in a dark room, with as little background noise as possible
    • Consider supplementing occasionally with melatonin about 30 minutes before going to bed
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