We spend roughly one-third of our lives sleeping. For something that we do with such regularity, we know very little about sleep. Scientists have not yet fully figured out the exact functions of sleep. There are many theories about the role of sleep in our lives, as it appears to be a very complex and important process.

In this TED Talk, a neuroscientist Russell Foster shares three reasons why we sleep and discusses how much sleep people generally need.

Why We Need to Sleep

Overall, there are four theories that explain why we need to sleep:

  1. Repair of cell damage. I think this one is self-explanatory.
  2. Rest. As we all know, the body’s energy reserves are replenished during sleep.
  3. Memory reorganization. During sleep, our brain synapses are pruned, that’s why we might wake up feeling refreshed.
  4. Reinforcing memories and learning. Recent research shows that we forget some things and remember others during sleep. This is how learning works. It is unclear, however, how sleeping drugs many people take interfere with the process of forming memories.

What Happens When We Don’t Get Enough Sleep

Interestingly, we sleep much less now than 20 years ago. According to the data, more than one-third of adults in the U.S. are getting less sleep than the recommended amount. The National Sleep Foundation recommends that young adults and adults sleep 8-9 hours.

Sleep deprivation has serious consequences for our health and the ability to perform during the day. It affects multiple vital systems in our bodies. This Business Insider article lists 27 different risks of sleep deprivation.

In another article in the Reader’s Digest, Tina Donvito highlights the following 12 consequences of sleep deprivation:

  1. Your brain doesn’t work as well.
  2. You become forgetful.
  3. You are more irritable.
  4. You are more likely to be depressed.
  5. You make bad judgments.
  6. You may become a dangerous driver.
  7. Your heart could suffer.
  8. Your skin looks haggard.
  9. You gain weight.
  10. Your sex drive drops.
  11. You are more likely to get sick.
  12. You have no energy to exercise.


How to Get Better Sleep

Some 50 to 70 million Americans suffer from insomnia, a sleep disorder that is marked with difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep, or waking up too early.  As many other health conditions, insomnia is often stress-related.

Try the following strategies to get better sleep:

  1. Establishing a routine. You will fall asleep easier, if you go to bed and wake up at the same time every day. It will require some discipline, but you are going to feel much better as a result. To make this process more fun, you can start tracking each day when you went to bed by a certain time.
  2. Listening to soothing music before going to bed.
  3. Taking a warm bath or shower before going to bed. A bath with Epsom salt will help your muscles to relax and release tension.
  4. Limiting caffeine, alcohol, and heavy food close to bedtime. Instead of coffee, drink a cup of peppermint tea. It has a soothing effect on the nervous system, and thus will help you to relax.
  5. Turning on an aromatherapy diffuser for 15 minutes before bedtime. The best essential oils for sleep is lavender, ylang ylang, chamomile, and cedarwood. You can use one essential oil that you like or combine 1 or 2 drops of each to make your own blend. Alternatively, you can purchase a pre-made blend, such as this Good Night Essential Oil blend. A few drops is all you need to create a peaceful atmosphere.
  6. Exercising earlier in the day.
  7. Keeping your bedroom dark and arranging comfortable temperature.

Sleep well and stay healthy!

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