Although people spend about one-third of their life doing it, the importance of sleep with regards to health and wellbeing is often ignored.

According to research conducted by the National Sleep Foundation, millions of people suffer from sleep disorders or report having sleep problems a few nights a week or more. Quality sleep is the foundation for good health and is considered by many experts to even more critical than following a strict diet or daily exercise routine. While understanding sleep has proven a very difficult scientific challenge, there are still quite a lot of things we’ve figured out about sleeping.

While you’re sleeping, your body works hard to flush out toxins, replace damaged cells, repair tissues and restore your energy supply. Not getting hours can lead to a deficit with long-term effects on your health, including raising the risk of heart disease, cancer, obesity, diabetes, and depression. Sleep reduces stress and blood pressure while improving your memory and helping you maintain a heathy body weight.

At the simplest level, not getting enough sleep will usually make you feel really bad, whereas sleeping properly feels really good.

There’s no leading a healthy life without getting enough sleep, and yet surprisingly many people don’t get enough sleep, or enough quality sleep. Read on as we look at how science can help you sleep better at home.

Looking for the answer in space

Researchers at NASA are working hard to figure out the secret of a crucial component of life on any planet – how to get a good night’s sleep. They are looking at how the body’s natural biorhythms are affected by artificial light, whether from a bedside lamp, the overhead fixtures of a hospital room or the inside of a space capsule in the twilight between planets.

Disruptions in circadian rhythm, or the body’s natural regulator for sleep and wake cycles based on a 24-hour schedule, can have a severe impact on sleep, potentially leading to chronic sleep deprivation, which in turn can cause a swarm of health problems. Developing a schedule that takes into account human circadian rhythm and an individual’s typical sleeping habits is the first tool in ensuring optimal performance, alertness and sleep quality.

In addition to noting sleep and wake times, NASA researchers are looking at lighting instructions, diet, exercise and more to ensure proper adaptation. By being aware of the factors that impact sleep quality and quantity, they aim to find a definitive answer to creating optimal resting conditions.

Better dietary choices, properly-timed exercise and minimising light from digital devices have all been found to lead to a better night’s sleep and can help to prevent circadian misalignment.

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Taking steps toward a better night’s sleep leads to faster response times, sharper cognitive skills and an overall healthier mind and body – useful attributes on both Earth and in space.

Sleep your way to better performance

Research has found that athletes who get the requisite amount of sleep are more likely to improve their performance in their chosen sport.Top NBA star Kobe Bryant has previously stated that sleep played an important part in improving performance and his on-court results did little to quash that theory.

In soccer, former Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson was fascinated by the positive impact sleep could have on his team’s results. Ferguson utilized the services of sleep coach, Nick Littlehales, giving him free rein to monitor and manage his players’ sleeping patterns.

Littlehales had almost instant success with United defender, Gary Pallister, resolving his troublesome back injuries by advising him to invest in a top quality mattress that wouldn’t hamper his injury treatment. He subsequently went on to work with a plethora of international stars including Cristiano Ronaldo and has helped a host of Olympic athletes improve their sleep.

Training ultimately provides the body with the necessary stimulus, but it’s the period athletes spend sleeping when the body recovers and adapts, becoming faster and stronger.

Sleep has been shown to have a direct effect on executive cognitive function, metabolic control of energy balance, appetite and weight and tissue repair, which is why the sports industry is paying more and more attention to it.

Taking those factors into consideration, it naturally follows that capitalizing on the restorative power of sleep can help maximize energy, improve mood and boost decision-making skills amongst non-athletes.

How to sleep better

Many scientists believe it is vital to have a period of unwinding prior to going to sleep, giving the brain signals that the resting period is on its way. Developing a sleep routine where you shut off things like computers, televisions and mobile phones an hour or two before you go to bed can be a big help.

The light from these devices can hinder the production of melatonin, which means your body isn’t preparing the hormones it needs to enter the sleep phase. Working late at night can also keep your mind racing and your stress levels high, which prevents the body from calming down for sleep.

Researchers believe that around half of insomnia cases are emotion or stress related, so use relaxation techniques such as breathing exercises or meditation to combat this.

The intensity of your sleep is managed automatically by your body, while the duration is dependent on when you get into bed. That means going to bed at an earlier and consistent time is vital for improving the quality and duration of your sleep. The ideal sleeping environment is dark, cool and quiet, so eliminate the things in your bedroom that distract you from what you are there to do.

If you are still struggling to sleep, try one of the many sleep technologies on the market or consult a health professional to determine if you have a sleep disorder.

Conclusion

Research shows that getting seven to nine hours of sleep per night is beneficial for adults. Any less can significantly increase the risk of serious illnesses.

Getting enough quality sleep is undoubtedly the key to a healthy lifestyle, helping to strengthen your immune system, manage weight loss, boost cognitive functions and more.

A lack of sleep can also contribute to depression and anxiety, so make sure you get enough rest every day to improve your chances of living a happy and healthy life.