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Brain Awareness: Why You Need a Good Night's Sleep

To continue this month's highlighting of Brain Awareness week (March 16-22), this week's topic is on the benefits of slumber. Sleep affects both mental and physical health. According to Dr. Merrill Miller, a sleep expert and neuroscientist at the National Institutes of Health (NIH), "Sleep services all aspects of our body in one way or another: molecular, energy balance, as well as intellectual function, alertness, and mood."

Adults need 7 to 8 hours of sleep every night. Sleep helps you think and focus better, and helps to solidify memories. It also influences your mood. I know that when I don't have enough sleep, I am VERY crabby. (Those of you who know me are thinking, "Cara, you must be tired all the time!")

The two most common sleep disorders are insomnia and sleep apnea. People with insomnia have trouble falling or staying asleep. Chronic insomnia is defined as lasting at least 3 nights per week for more than a month. Insomnia can trigger exhaustion, irritability and trouble concentrating.

For those with sleep apnea, breathing stops repeatedly. Because of this, you are not getting enough oxygen, and your brain briefly wakes you up to open your windpipe. Apnea can leave you feeling tired, moody, and with difficulty thinking clearly.

Getting Quality Sleep:
     Have a sleep schedule – go to bed the same time each night and get up the same time each morning (all days of the week);
     Sleep in a dark, quite, comfortable environment;
     Exercise daily, but not within 3 hours of going to bed;
     Limit the use of electronics before bed (this means TV too!);
     Relax before bedtime – a warm bath or reading may help;
     Avoid alcohol and stimulants, such as caffeine, late in the day;
     Avoid nicotine;
     Consult a health care professional in you have ongoing sleep problems.

Information for this article was excerpted from NIH News in Health (April, 2013).