10 things you need to know about sleep, part 1

Everyone knows how important it is to have a good, restful sleep, even if the world is divided between those who see their worst enemy in the alarm clock and those who believe that eight hours sleep a night is only a dream.

Perhaps, however, not everyone knows what happens to those who do not do it well enough. They might also be unaware that there is a day of the year in which we celebrate “sleep” and that, to reconcile sleep, we have other natural and simple remedies available, in addition to counting sheep.

Everything you don't know about sleep, explained well

Here's a list of five things maybe we should know about this fundamental activity. The first five will be published in this editorial; the next will follow in a second article.

  1. World Sleep Day
  2. If you don't sleep much, you risk being unhealthy: possible pathologies
  3. he benefits of a nap
  4. The dreamlike dimension of sleep
  5. Yoga, meditation: remedies to combat sleep problems

1. World Sleep Day

The Friday before the spring equinox (20/21 March) is World Sleep Day. The event was first organised in 2008 by the World Association of Sleep Medicine (WASM), with the aim of celebrating the benefits of sleep and bringing the attention to society of those who suffer from the most common disorders and their possible prevention and management.
From the spread of electric light, the increase in stressors and the use of devices that increasingly keep us connected even when we should devote ourselves to rest, dyssomnias such as insomnia, hypersomnia and disorders of the circadian rhythm or parasomnias such as sleepwalking, nightmare disorders and sleepwalking affect almost 45% of the world's population.
Not take sleep means counting the sheep
During World Sleep Day, events, free screening, meetings with experts and various activities are organised to turn the spotlight on a global problem, which has among its main consequences not only complications for the health of the individual, but also high social costs.

2. Those who sleep little risk negative health complications

Sleep is the elixir of life? According to all the risks that those who do not sleep well enough run into, sleep certainly seems to be the key to better health. Not resting well and therefore not allowing the body to recharge and the brain to cleanse itself of all the waste substances produced during wakefulness has negative effects on both the body and the mind.
Sleep of business woman or student, sleeping after hard work
Apart from the natural mood swings, which easily lead to nervousness and irritability, the lack of adequate rest in individuals increases the risk of obesity, contracting colds and suffering from headaches: sleep is, in fact, essential for the immune response and for the hormonal balance that regulates the stimulus of hunger. Those who sleep little are much more prone to heart attacks and cardiovascular problems, and to the possibility of developing chronic inflammatory bowel diseases and cancers.

Sleep disorders affect almost 45% of the world's population

The lack of sleep also affects our memory, because it is one of the fundamental stages of the processes of consolidation of everything we learn during the day, and our ability to learn, since, thanks to a good night's sleep, we can eliminate unnecessary memories and create space for all that is new to learn.

3. The benefits of a nap

Siesta or nap? No matter what its name is,  a rest after lunch is a habit that unites the Mediterranean countries and China, Latin America and India, and that, as evidenced by various studies, has great benefits for our well-being.
Sleep of a young Asian woman in the bedroom and a smartphone
The name siesta comes from the Latin hora sexta, the sixth hour of the day, which corresponded indicatively to noon, when the farmers stopped work to devote themselves to lunch. The habit of taking a siesta dates back to the need of the workers in the fields not to tire themselves during the hottest hours of the day, to facilitate digestion and the gradual continuation of afternoon activities.

Sleep disorders have high social costs and complicate the health of the individuals

4. The dreamlike dimension of sleep

Among the most mysterious and fascinating aspects of sleep, dreams certainly occupy a very high place. Here are some myths to dispel:

  • We all dream! There are certainly those who are easier to remember what happened during the night and those who are completely unaware, but it is an activity from which no one is excluded.
  • Dreams have short legs: 50% of what we dream is forgotten within 5 minutes of waking up, and after 10 minutes almost 90% has disappeared.
Boy sleeping in bed waiting for the alarm clock
  • We do not only dream in the REM phase. Most of the dream activity is concentrated in the deepest phase of our rest, but to a lesser extent, it also takes place during NREM sleep
  • Usually we dream in colour, with a prevalence of pastel colors, but about 12% of people say they dream in black and white.
  • Those who sleep can dream brilliant ideas. It seems, in fact, that in dreams, melodies like Beatles' Yesterday, literary works like Mary Shelley's Frankenstein, revolutionary inventions like the sewing machine, and lucky intuitions like the Google search engine were born.

5. Yoga, meditation and remedies to combat sleep problems

Yoga and meditation have long been among the techniques and natural remedies considered most useful to combat rest problems, along with some beneficial herbs, such as chamomile, linden and hawthorn, and special essences, such as lavender, bergamot or jasmine. Practicing a few yoga positions before going to sleep can in fact help to relax the body and free it from the labours accumulated during the day.
Using simple pranayama techniques (breath control exercises) or just bringing attention and awareness to the natural rhythm of breathing - consisting of inhalation, pause, exhalation and new pause - helps to work on the nervous system. This methodology acts on the parasympathetic mode, which presides over the restoration of the psychophysical balance of our organism.
Finally, dedicating a few minutes to meditation or short exercises of mindfulness before putting us to bed, can allow our minds to find peace and quiet without which, in the modern frenzy in which we are daily immersed, we would hardly be able to sleep peacefully.

To be continued...

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