How to Get the Perfect Night’s Sleep

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Poor sleep is one of the major causes of health problems from cardiovascular disease to Alzheimer’s. More than 17,000 scientific studies support these claims. So how do you get the perfect night’s sleep?

Why is sleep important? It’s known as the ‘great restorer’, but why is it so essential to our wellbeing? What actually happens when we sleep, and what are the consequences of not getting enough sleep? So how do you get the perfect night’s sleep, and what happens if we don’t? These are all questions which could, well, keep you awake at night. Let’s try to answer them.

Most types of life-form show some form of sleep behaviour – certainly all mammals. Sleep patterns are normally tied in with the patterns of nature, so humans tend to be awake in the day and sleep at night, making us ‘diurnal’, while some animals are naturally more wakeful at night, so are known as ‘nocturnal’.

Whether or not human beings learned to sleep at night because it was safer than moving around in the dark, as the human brain developed, sleep came to serve a specific function; it allows the conscious mind to be ‘switched off’, while the memories and experiences of the day are transferred from short-term to long-term memory. It’s like backing up the work you’ve done during the day on your computer.

During sleep the body also performs physical repairs to the wear and tear we experience during the day, and deals with waste products which build up in the blood and tissues, such as the organic compound adenosine in the brain.

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Did you know?

The pattern of human sleep is determined by what is called the ‘circadian rhythm’, an internal biological clock which keeps us alert during the day and prepares us for sleep at night.

If mammals are deprived of sleep, they tend to make up for lost time by sleeping longer when they get the chance – clearly, sleep performs essential maintenance functions and is not just about avoiding nocturnal predators. But how much sleep do we actually need?

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