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The body rebuilds itself during sleep, and restores its energy supplies. Blood pressure drops, the heart slows, the body rests. In children, growth occurs mostly during sleep, because growth hormone is released mostly during sleep.
Sleep deprivation negatively affects our thinking and general ability to function efficiently. It also depresses the immune system.
The older you get, the less deep sleep (aka "slow-wave" sleep) you get, which is the most restorative part of sleep. One study found that in men under 25, deep sleep was about 20 percent of a night’s sleep. Between 25 and 35, that drops to about 12 percent. After 35, it’s 5 percent or less.
Growth hormone helps build muscle tone and fitness. Because growth hormone is released mostly during deep sleep, and deep sleep gets scarcer with age, it gets harder and harder to stay in shape as you age, particularly for men. This is part of why improving your sleep should help you lose weight.
The medical treatment of insomnia is often drugs. Unfortunately, there is no drug available yet that induces slumber as complete and restorative as good natural sleep. In intractable cases, there are sleep clinics that will test every phase of your sleep and often identify some useful suggestions.
Biofeedback is an excellent method to try. So is acupuncture treatment, in the right hands.
Preventive Measures: Alcohol ingestion will diminish the quality of your sleep (i.e., diminish its most important part, deep sleep). Caffeine intake is associated with increased risk of sleep problems. In children, cow’s milk products can contribute to insomnia. Any digestive problems that extend into the night will tend to worsen the quality of your sleep.
Positive Suggestions: Avoid working close to bedtime. A relaxing hot bath before going to sleep can be very helpful. Make sure your mattress is comfortable. It’s worth every penny to get one that works best for you.
Do not eat within at least two hours of bedtime and, if at all possible, make your evening meal the smallest of the day; this will not only improve your sleep, it will help you lose weight too.
Empty your bowel and bladder as best you can prior to going to sleep. And remember that staying physically active during the day can help you achieve good restful sleep, in addition to its many other benefits.
Nutritional factors: Getting sufficient calcium and especially magnesium is important. Supplemental magnesium, in particular, has been found useful in diminishing insomnia. The amino acid L-tryptophan is very helpful, but hard to get in the U.S. (not because it is intrinsically harmful-it isn’t-but because a long time ago one company had a manufacturing problem). Helpful herbs include passion flower, valerian and zyzyphus (jujube).