Thursday, 13 August 2009

Get switched on to…Quality Sleep

There are many theories about why we sleep – physical repair, memory consolidation and general processing of the day’s experiences. However, one thing is indisputable: the profound importance of sleep for our health and optimal functioning.

Before artificial lighting, our sleep/wake cycle was regulated by the sun, establishing a circadian rhythm that ensured a good night’s sleep. This was recently confirmed by researchers at Johns Hopkins University, who disrupted the sleep cycle of mice by interfering with light signalling to the brain.[1]

When darkness falls, we produce melatonin, a hormone that not only promotes sleep but also enhances immune function and may inhibit the development and growth of cancer.[2] Most of us unwittingly sabotage this natural process by extending our waking hours and allowing light sources in the bedroom. Even a small amount of light can drastically reduce melatonin levels, so it is worth taking a few steps to improve the quality of your sleep:

• Cover or switch off illuminated displays on clocks and radios

• Use blackout curtains or wear an eye mask to block street lighting

• If you can reach the bathroom safely in the dark, don’t use the light

• Be in bed by 10pm and limit your sleep to eight hours

• Get plenty of exposure to natural light during the morning

[1] Hattar, S. et al., ‘Melanopsin cells are the principal conduits for rod-cone input to non-image-forming vision’. Nature 453, 102-105, (1 May 2008)

[2] Sleep Medicine Reviews, 4, 257-264 (Aug 2009).


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