Importance of Sleep
Greetings Cool Healthy Lifers,
It’s beginning to look a lot like the holidays, that time of year when we ignore Ben Franklin’s “early to bed and early to rise” and instead lengthen our waking hours with holiday parties, pre-dawn or post-midnight cooking and baking, last-minute shopping, and late-night gift wrapping. One thing that tends to get crushed in this holiday rush is our sleep schedule. What we may not recognize is that getting proper sleep is one of the most important things we can do for ourselves to live healthy lives.
The Importance of Sleep
Nearly every aspect of our daily lives is profoundly impacted by the benefits of sleep or the consequences of a lack thereof. Dr. William Dement, the founder of the world’s very first sleep laboratory at Stanford University stated, “…the importance of sleep, though immense, is largely ignored considering the evolution of today’s frenzied lifestyle.” We all recognize the blatant need for sleep; the problem lies in the fact that many people don’t know just how much sleep they need and why it is so important to not short change their nightly quiet time.
Why We Need Sleep
Be it the glory days of college, the night before a big exam, or just a normal Tuesday balancing work and family life, how many times have you actually said, “I don’t really have time to sleep?” The mere mental acrobatics required to fit 48 hours of tasks into 24 hours of time, means something has to give. Sleep is usually what goes first, with a promise to make up for it at a later date —a promise rarely fulfilled at a price the body must pay.
Benefits of Sleep
Knowing we’re focusing so much on the importance of sleep, you’re probably asking, “ok, so what are all the great benefits of getting a full night’s sleep?” As listed by the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, these benefits of sleep include:
1. Sleep helps to keep your heart healthy
During your waking hours, your cardiovascular system is constantly under pressure to provide each part of your body with the necessary amount of blood needed for you to carry out your daily activities. While you sleep, the pressure is reduced and internal inflammation (which can lead to heart disease) is relieved.
2. Sleep helps your body to regenerate itself
The production of extra proteins while you sleep helps to mend and strengthen your immune system at a cellular level. This in turn fortifies the body against the myriad of compromising elements that we interact with every day.
3. Sleep helps to improve your memory
When you’re sleep deprived, in addition to being easily irritated, you tend to experience a bit of a “mental fog.” It can become difficult to concentrate and to recall memories or even recent conversations. Researchers at the Division of Sleep Medicine at Harvard University, found that people tend to stutter more during conversations when they’re tired as the brain tries to recollect the memories and words they need to express themselves. Sleep allows your brain to better store and retain new experiences and knowledge. Extensive research points towards the fact that it is during sleep that new memories are cemented.
4. Sleep helps to control weight loss
According to researchers at the Cedars – Sinai Hospital in Los Angeles, sleep acts as a regulator for the hormones that control and affect your appetite. Their research shows that when you’re sleep deprived, hormone imbalances occur and your appetite increases. As your appetite increases, you tend to crave food high in carbohydrates and fats, which can lead to further weight gain. With adequate sleep these hormones remain in check, a fact to remember if you’re on a weight loss journey.
Consequences of a Lack of Sleep
Since sleep is so important, it comes as no surprise that a lack of it has some very unfortunate consequences. A lack of sleep can reverse all the above benefits and could also lead to more severe conditions:
- The National Sleep Foundation has reported a link between Type 2 Diabetes and sleep deprivation. They report that people who slept for less than 5 hours each day were shown to process glucose far more slowly than those who slept for optimal times. The fact that a lack of sleep leads to increased appetites and by extension obesity also increases the risk of developing this disease.
- A study presented at the SLEEP 2012 Conference, showed that middle-aged and older adults who regularly sleep for less than six hours a night are at a four times higher risk for stroke (even if they don’t have a history of stroke within the family).
Extensive research has been conducted over the years on the effects of sleep, and these studies consistently show that sleep is essential to the overall well-being of the body. It makes a huge difference in the quality of your life as well as your ability to perform typical daily activities. It is therefore imperative that you place emphasis on getting enough “continuous” sleep on a consistent basis.
How Much Sleep is Enough?
To answer this question, Dr Morgenthaler pointed out that the amount of sleep you need is age-related. The optimal sleep for most adults ages 18-55 is about 7 to 8 hours; for adults who are older more may be required, especially if degenerative ailments present themselves. Teenagers between 13 and 17 years of age need 9-10 hours of sleep, while school-aged children require 10 or more, and babies spend up to 16 hours each day in REM sleep. Wow – what I would give some days to be able to sleep for 16 hours….
Don’t Be a Scrooge This Holiday!
If you’re not getting at least 7 hours of sleep each night, begin to focus on what you can do to get your body the precious “zzzzz’s” it needs to ensure you’re living as healthy as possible. In the short-run it’s all too easy to sacrifice an hour or two of sleep, but in the long-run your health will pay the price!
Until Next Time,