Sleep, Rest and Meditation: The Trifecta of Good Health
Sleep. That simple five-letter word can cause a wide range of emotional responses. To a seven year old it can be seen as the end of all life, a torturous death sentence imposed by their parents. Yet to many adults it is an exalted event; an opportunity to check out from life for a brief period of time. We all require both sleep and rest each day, but are you aware just how significant those two matters are to your physical and mental health? Were you aware of the plethora of benefits that can be had by getting a good night's sleep? If the answer is 'no' then you may also not be aware of the advantages of meditation either. Join me in taking a deeper look at all three of these keys to health and happiness: Sleep, rest and meditation.
Sleep: /slēp/ (noun)
A condition of the body and mind that typically recurs for several hours every night, in which the nervous system is relatively inactive, the eyes closed, the postural muscles relaxed, and consciousness is practically suspended.
Some love it and can hardly wait while others despise it but no matter what your opinion is, sleep matters! Many people get too little (or too much) sleep each day and we often just take it for granted. Like the most recent office joke we laugh about how little sleep we got last night. If we only realized how critical sleep was to us; it's actually the cornerstone to a healthy and happy life. Let's look at just a few things that sleep does for us when we get the proper amount.
Several years ago at Stanford University a study found that college football players who got at least 10 hours sleep a night for about eight weeks increased their average sprint time and were less fatigued during the day. Another study published in the journal Sleep in 2010 showed that college students who didn't get enough sleep had worse grades than those who did. Proper sleep can be one of the key elements to a person's success.
In a 2009 study in the journal Pediatrics it was discovered that children ages seven and eight who got less than around eight hours of sleep were more likely to be hyperactive, inattentive, and impulsive. There are even links to a lack of sleep and ADHD in children. Adults are clearer of mind and more inventive after a full eight hours of sleep.
Most of us already know that sleep makes us less stressed, but researchers at the University of Chicago also discovered that dieters who got proper sleep lost more fat (56% of their weight loss) than those who did not. Adults without proper sleep each night lost more muscle mass than fat. And did you know that proper rest could even help us stay healthy in our daily commute? According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration a report in 2009 said that being tired accounted for the highest number of fatal single-car run-off-the-road crashes. That is more fatalities than are caused by alcohol!
Rest: /rest/ (verb)
To cease work or movement in order to relax, refresh oneself, or recover strength.
Our bodies need sleep to be healthy, but we also require rest at times as well. No matter if you call it a siesta or power naps, we all require rest. Not only can resting put you in a better mood and improve your sex life, it can also help your memory and immune system.
The National Sleep Foundation conducted a poll and as much as 26% of people say that their sex lives tend to suffer because they're just too tired. Being well rested not only affects you but also your partner.
A lack of rest could be to blame for some of our poor memory. Studies have shown that while we rest, our brains use the time to process and associate our memories from the day. If we don't get enough then we can lose some of that information. It's similar to performing a defragmentation on our computers to keep them running smoothly.
Now here is an interesting study. Researchers tracked more than 150 people and monitored their sleep and rest for two weeks and then exposed them to the common cold. The results? The people who were well rested fought off the cold three times more often as those with less rest. There is no doubt that sleep and rest are crucial to our well-being and happiness.
Meditate: /ˈmedəˌtāt/ (verb)
To engage in mental exercise (as concentration on one's breathing or repetition of a mantra) for the purpose of reaching a heightened level of awareness.
We often think that meditation is just for others or that we don't have time for it, but what if you knew that meditation had even more benefits to your health and happiness than sleep did? If you could dramatically improve your healthiness by spending just a few minutes a day wouldn't you consider it? After only two weeks of meditating just 20 minutes a day, studies have found that people start experiencing the many benefits such as improvements in decision-making, management of pain and even a reduced risk of heart diseases and stroke.
Like a computer, our brain functions best when the information is organized and accessible. Most of us would never neglect our computers maintenance but we often do neglect our own. Meditation (or mindfulness) is a simple way of doing just that; taking time to refocus our thoughts. It takes a small investment of time to learn the easy technique and has an enormous reward. People who meditate often make better decisions than those who do not.
An amazing study performed at Wake Forest Baptist Medical Centre took healthy volunteers who were all new to meditation. They were each taught a meditation style that focused on breathing. After only four sessions (each 20-minutes) they were exposed to pain from a heat source. Through both brain image tests and questions the results were dramatic. Those who meditated experienced about a 40% reduction in pain intensity and a 57% reduction in pain unpleasantness. Just how remarkable were these results? Non-meditative patients given morphine or other pain-relieving drugs typically report a reduction in pain ratings by about 25%!
In 2012, a group of over 200 individuals at high risk for heart disease were asked to either take a health education class (diet and exercise) or a class on Transcendental Meditation. Researchers then followed them for five years. Those who took the meditation class had a 48% reduction in their overall risk of heart attack, stroke and death.
The only conclusions that can be drawn here are apparent and astute: Sleep, rest and mediation are the keys to becoming healthier and happier.
With just a minimal amount of effort we can all live better and longer lives. Now that is some good medicine.