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I slept in today.  Till 7:45.  (Oh the shame!)  In fact, I’ve been sleeping a lot this week, it seems.  Hmmm… Is it the onset of SAD?  Perhaps… But this morning I heard these words come out of my mouth: “I’ve NEVER slept like this! We’re sleeping 8 or 9 hours!”  Really?  I’ve never slept 8 or 9 hours in a night?  Not since I can remember.  Maybe in high school?  Maybe not even then…

Now, I’m not talking about sleeping in one morning after a night of partying like a rock star.  (I don’t really sleep in then either, come to think of it.)  It’s not a good night’s sleep if it’s alcohol induced and doesn’t start till 2am ;-)

I’m talking about being “well rested.”  Whoa…

This got me thinking about a couple of things…

1 – Is it natural for us to sleep more in the fall/winter and I’ve been so out of touch with my own body, my own rhythms that I’ve just never noticed the inclination before?

2 – Have I really been depriving myself of sleep continuously for the last 15 years?  What effect has that had on my health and my life in general?

3 – If I haven’t had consistent, quality sleep in over 15 years, then what about all of you, with kids, jobs, life, etc.?  Are you all sleep deprived too???  Well… are you???

4 – What effect would it have on the world if all of us sleep deprived folks just got a good night’s sleep?

Oh!  The burning questions!  I just had to do a little digging…

First of all…

Did you know that there is an entire field of biology devoted to studying the cycles of living organisms?  It’s called Chronobiology.  (That’s your fun fact for the day :-)

Second…

There are (at least) 2 forces at work here: The Circadian (24-hour) Rhythms and the Seasonal Rhythms.  The Circadian, or Daily Rhythms are the most familiar to us.  We all become sleepy at about the same time every day.  What we don’t notice is that our body temperature, blood pressure, cell division, and ability to perform different types of activities all follow a daily pattern.

The picture to the right illustrates the Circadian Rhythms including (get this!) when your bowel movement is most likely.  (Write that in your day planner!)

As the seasons change and the days become shorter our body produces melatonin earlier in the evening and it continues till later in the morning.  Hence the increased desire to sleep in the winter months.   This is normal, natural and the pattern we should be following each day and through out the year.

Unfortunately we often wonk it all up by trying to cram a 30 hours worth of stuff into a 24 hour day.  And the area that often suffers is our sleep.  What effect is all this sleep deprivation having on our lives?

Among other things, the effects of sleep deprivation include:

* Decreased ability to pay attention, react to signals or remember new information ~ Reducing your nighttime sleep by as little as 1.5 hours for just one night could result in a reduction of daytime alertness by as much as 32%!

* Increase in body mass index – a greater likelihood of obesity due to an increased appetite caused by sleep deprivation

* Automobile Injuries ~ The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) estimates conservatively that each year drowsy driving is responsible for at least 100,000 automobile crashes, 71,000 injuries, and 1,550 fatalities.

* Psychiatric problems, including depression, mood disorders and substance abuse

* Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD)

* Increased risk of diabetes and heart problems

* High Blood Pressure & Stroke

* Fetal and childhood growth retardation

* Poor quality of life

Holy crap!

So, how much sleep is enough?

It’s different for everyone, but these are guidelines from the Mayo Clinic:

* Preschoolers: 11 hours

* School-age children: 10 hours

* Teens: 9 hours

* Adults: 7-8 hours

* Seniors: 7-8 hours

Yep! That much! Seriously.

So what’s a girl to do?

Here are some tips:

* Learn your rhythm by taking note of how you feel and then plan your days accordingly.

* Get regular ~ go to sleep at the same time each night, get up at the same time each morning.

* Spend 15-20 minutes in the sun every day ~ sunlight can reset and normalize your rhythm

* Get exercise ~ 30 minutes of regular exercise during the day will help you sleep at night

* Don’t drink caffeine after 3pm

* Don’t eat after 7pm ~ drink relaxing herbal tea only

* Don’t eat a large or high-glycemic dinner ~ this will send your blood sugar soaring and your body will spend all night digesting instead of resting

* Taking supplemental Melatonin can help you get on track

* Recognize that getting enough (quality) sleep will help you to be more productive during the day!

Good luck and good sleeping :-)