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Chapter 9. Exercise > Achieving a Restful Night of Sleep

Achieving a Restful Night of Sleep

Have you ever wondered why we need to sleep? One outdated theory suggested that we sleep in order to rest our brain—but our brain cells are quite active even when we sleep. It appears that we sleep to rejuvenate our tired bodies and to recover from stress. During sleep, or any period of deep relaxation, our body's natural healing mechanisms are accessed and we are able to repair bodily damage and combat illness. That is why we generally need to sleep more when we are ill. Likewise, our need for sleep may increase during periods of change, stress, or depression as our body counteracts the wear and tear from our stressful day. Chronic lack of sleep or irregular sleep can have ill effects. Research suggests that people who sleep more than seven hours nightly live longer. Thus, long-term sleeplessness can subdue your immune system. But for the most part, most people can skip a night's sleep and still be functional the next day. Even people who remain sleepless for several consecutive days show few serious disturbances in functioning. Most often, the effects include temporary lapses in attention and concentration along with occasional confusion or misperception. These cognitive lapses may be episodes of borderline sleep. Oftentimes, the anticipation of the negative effects of a sleepless night is more damaging than the actual effects. That is, many people tend to catastrophize about how horrible it will be if they do not get a good night's sleep. If you expect the worst, that is often what you will get, via self-fulfilling prophecy. The truth is that most people can sustain a night without sleep very easily, with some afternoon fatigue being the main consequence.

One of the most common stress-related emotional problems is insomnia. It is quite common for most people to experience some form of insomnia during stressful periods. For some people, insomnia is a common occurrence and becomes a stressor as well as an effect of stress. There are three varieties of insomnia: (1) sleep-onset insomnia, which refers to difficulties with falling asleep; (2) frequent awakening with difficulty falling back to sleep; and (3) early-morning awakening. Sleep-onset problems are associated with anxiety and high levels of arousal, while early-morning awakening is more related to depression. Over thirty million Americans complain of insomnia; it appears to be a more frequent complaint for women. Poor sleepers are more ruminative, depressed, shy, and concerned with physical complaints are than good sleepers.


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