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How to get the best sleep ever
This story was originally titled "Get Your Best Sleep Ever" in the September 2010 issue. Subscribe to Canadian Living today and never miss an issue!
It's 8:17 a.m. and you've made it into the car after countless pleas to your children to "Grab your backpacks and please stop kissing the cat goodbye." You set off on the school-to-office run, bleary-eyed and sniffling (is that a cold coming on?). As you round the corner, you realize you've left the kids' lunch boxes on the counter. You catch a quick look in the car mirror, and it's not pretty: dark circles, sallow complexion and bloodshot eyes. What have you done to deserve this? Well, it's actually what you haven't done – sleep.
The science of sleep
Busy schedules, stress, illness, commuting, family needs and work all stand in the way of getting a good night's sleep. According to a recent study on sleep from Statistics Canada, almost half of us say we cut back on our sleep when we need more time for life's demands. Yet a new study out of the University of Warwick in England (and published in the journal Sleep) says that those of us who get less than six hours of shut-eye a night are – get this – 12 per cent more likely to die early.
"The amount of sleep that you get is critical," says Dr. Charles H. Samuels, medical director of the Centre for Sleep and Human Performance in Calgary and a clinical assistant professor of medicine at the University of Calgary. "There may be negative consequences for your health and performance when you restrict your sleep to less than six or seven hours a night."
This is because your body becomes a beehive of healing activity while you sleep. You go through a series of stages, each with specific repair duties. So when you get less sleep, you miss out on complete recovery and repair – of your body and mind.
When we first fall asleep, we enter non–rapid eye movement sleep. "It's here during the first two to four hours of 'core sleep' that metabolic, immune, neurological and tissue recovery occur," says Samuels. "This is followed by REM [rapid eye movement] sleep, where the skills you learned during the day become embedded in our brains, making this stage of sleep critical for learning and memory."
Overall, experts say we need to take a lack of sleep seriously. "In severe cases, difficulty sleeping can be a sign of potential heart disease, arthritic disease, depression and angina," says Samuels. He adds that Parkinson's disease can also first appear as a sleep disorder.
But don't lose any sleep over your lack of shut-eye – we have all the expert advice on how to hit the pillow in peace.
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