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On Sleep and Health

by Dr. Maria Hadjimarkou, Lecturer, School of Psychology, University of Sussex.

Research on sleep helps us understand this mysterious behaviour and its role in our health and well-being. Every month, I write about a different aspect of sleep and how it may contribute to our optimal functioning. Please note that I will soon be launching an electronic newsletter. You can join my e-newsletter 'On Sleep' and receive my monthly articles in your inbox. In addition, you will be able to access other resources and learn more about sleep. Email me at MHOnSleep@gmail.com so that you can be added to the mailing list.



Posted in sleep on Jan 01, 2024

Many of us are embarking on new goals this month. January is the time for letting go of old habits and establishing new and healthier ones. One of the most popular goals people set is to lose weight. Usually, the goal focuses on the amount of food that we eat and then we brace ourselves for the difficult days ahead. Well, there may be an easier way to reach our goal, with perhaps less unpleasantness and a great deal of benefits. Just pay attention to the time that you eat.

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Posted in sleep on Dec 01, 2023

Christmas eve. It is anticipated for months! The house is decorated, the wreath is on the door, and the Christmas tree is gleaming proudly in the living room. Perhaps family visiting, preparations for the great feast on the big day, and Christmas carols blending in with children’s voices. It is a special time of the year for all, but especially for the little ones.

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Posted in sleep on Nov 01, 2023

Previously I wrote about insomnia, a condition where one has trouble falling asleep or wakes up early and is unable to resume sleep. Today, I am writing about a different sleep condition where people go to sleep easily but when they wake up the next day, they don’t feel refreshed, and they indeed feel sleepy throughout the day. The condition that I am referring to is Obstructive Sleep Apnoea or simply Sleep Apnoea (SA).

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Posted in sleep on Jul 01, 2023

During the day we pay attention to what goes on around us, process information, make decisions, and experience various emotions. When we sleep, we disengage from our surroundings and we pay attention to an internal world of events, images and people. Dreams are fascinating and mysterious and have kept people wondering for hundreds of years. What do they mean? Do they serve a useful function? Although we have several ideas, we don’t yet have a straightforward answer as to what they do.

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Posted in sleep on Jun 01, 2023

Alcohol has a place in every culture, one way or another. We drink in ceremonies to celebrate, mourn and socialize. At times, drinking can become a lonely habit, very distant from its ceremonial roots and drinking excessively can become an addiction with many negative consequences to our health.

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Posted in sleep on May 01, 2023

Perhaps the most established factor that contributes to our health and longevity is physical activity. It is a relatively inexpensive way that can contribute massively to our quality of life. I hope that this article and the nicer weather can motivate many of you to get out and be more physically active.

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Posted in sleep on Apr 01, 2023

Adolescence is a time characterised by growth acceleration and major changes in the appearance and behaviour of our youth. The brain also changes during this time, as it fine-tunes itself and prepares for adulthood. It is not a secret that this phase of development is sometimes accompanied by mood swings and the emergence of some mental health difficulties.

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Posted in sleep on Mar 01, 2023

Several vital functions take place when we sleep, such as the optimisation of our immune system, the clearing of toxic brain waste and the encoding of new learning.  Several studies find that not sleeping enough compromises several of these functions.  Many of us reduce our time in bed for work or entertainment and often sleep less than 6 hours each night. Of course, a short sleep may be enough for some, but for the majority, it is insufficient, and this is evident in several ways.  One of these is our performance in cognitive tasks that require our attention and engagement for a period of time.    Attention can be thought of as a prerequisite to learning, so we expect someone to pay attention in order to understand and learn. Sustained attention, also known as vigilant attention, implies maintaining attention for a period of time while doing a task. Perhaps it is easier to understand this if you think of driving, which requires attention from the moment we sit in the driver’s seat until we take the keys out of the ignition. Although driving ultimately becomes automatic and many times we may loosen our focus, it does require sustained attention. Similarly, sustained attention is required for work when we do a task or operate some sort of equipment.

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Posted in sleep on Feb 01, 2023

In my last entry on sleep hygiene, I mentioned insomnia.  Today I would like to focus on insomnia, not only because of its high prevalence but also because of its implications for our overall health.  I will discuss its aetiology and how it can be a stepping-stone for various health conditions and share some tips on how it can be dealt with.

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Posted in sleep on Jan 01, 2023

As we say goodbye to 2022 and welcome the new year, we may spend time thinking about changes we would like to make to improve our life satisfaction, health and well-being. This reflective exercise may mean different things for each of us, as we all have different priorities. Today I will be discussing some aspects of sleep hygiene, that may help improve one’s sleep.

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Posted in sleep on Dec 01, 2022

Timing is everything, some say. We try to fit in as much as possible in our busy lifestyles. We each have massive to-do lists, trying to be productive, accomplish things and feel good. Often, sleep is squeezed to only a few hours at night. We may postpone sleep until we finish a project or finish watching our favourite show. We can sleep the next day if necessary, right? Well, this is not exactly the case. There is a right time to sleep and a right time to be awake.

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Posted in sleep on Nov 01, 2022

We often give the advice to sleep well before an exam, or perhaps we have experienced a lack of sleep and found it hard to remember what we have previously learned. Does sleep really affect our ability to learn and remember? Yes, it can, and this is what I will be reviewing today.

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Posted in sleep on Oct 01, 2022

Our brains and bodies are rather complex, and no matter how much we learn about their structure and function, we are still on that learning curve. Every new discovery reassures us of this complexity and wonder. Today I will be discussing one of these new discoveries and its relation to sleep and health. We often hear that our bodies are about 70% water. Amazing, but where can this water be found?  The easiest guess would be in the blood, because blood circulates in our arteries and veins, and is pumped by our hearts. Water can also be found in all the cells that make up our bodies and brain, and in the spaces in between. 

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Posted in sleep on Sep 01, 2022

The past three years have changed the way we live, the way we behave and the way we think about our lives. We have become more aware of our vulnerability to diseases caused by infectious agents. The coronavirus SARS-CoV-2 is a virus like many others, that invades our bodies, replicates itself and spreads by infecting more people. So many of us have been infected and will probably be infected again, with future variants. The response of each of us to the virus varied tremendously, from completely asymptomatic to mild to severe. Unfortunately, many have died. During the peak of the epidemic, many have searched for remedies like vitamins and minerals, to boost their immune system. It would have been helpful to know that simply by sleeping well, we are contributing massively to our immune system’s ability to fight off disease. Did you know that sleep is an ally of the immune system? Read further to get a glimpse of how this may be happening and what research shows.

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Posted in sleep on Jul 01, 2022

The birds do it, the flies do it and we do it. We all sleep. In fact, several species of living things, even bacteria, also sleep. So, what is sleep? Sleep is a natural, periodic state during which our movement and responsiveness to our environment are greatly reduced. It is periodic, because it takes place at regular intervals, i.e., every night, and it is natural because it takes place naturally, without us having to work hard or do something specific to induce it. Usually, we just need to settle in a comfortable environment, such as our bedroom, where we know we will lie down for a few hours and sleep until the next morning. Although sleep seems like a simple thing to do, it is not as easy to study and understand. Sleep is currently one of the most exciting and rapidly developing areas of research, as we still try to unravel its secrets. As you will find out, sleep is important not only because it helps us rest so that we can carry on the following day, but also because during sleep, several key processes are taking place with important implications for our physical and mental health, our ability to learn and remember, and much more.

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