Yes, Sleep is Everything.
As we sleep, our bodies and minds rest and recover from the day’s stresses and prepare for the challenges of the coming day. Over the past decade, much research has been done examining the physiological processes that occur during sleep. We now have a much greater understanding of the importance of getting enough quality rest.
Although the necessity of sleep is not disputed, individuals vary in their requirements and the negative effects of deprivation.
- 1 in 3 Americans don’t get the recommended 7 hours of sleep each night
- More than 87% of teenagers are sleep deprived
- Americans are sleeping an average of 6.8 hours per night
- in 1910, the average person slept 9 hours each night
What is “Good” Sleep? Quality is as Important as Quantity
When it comes to sleep, the continuity and timing are as important as the number of hours you’re getting. Interrupted sleep and circadian misalignment (nontraditional sleep times due to jet lag, shift work, etc) can negatively affect your body’s ability to fully realize the benefits of sleep.
According to the National Sleep Foundation, we should be getting 7-9 hours of sleep each night. The following are good measures of quality sleep:
- Falling asleep within 30 minutes of going to bed
- Sleeping at least 85 percent of the total time you’re in bed
- Waking no more than once per night
- Being awake for 20 minutes or less after initially falling asleep
Here are 6 reasons you should make sleep the foundation of your wellness routine.
1. Memory, Cognition & Performance
Sleep plays a key role in healthy brain function. The foundations for clear thinking, problem solving, and emotional health are rooted in quality sleep.
During sleep, memories are consolidated. The neural networks that make memories are created and strengthened and unnecessary connections are pruned, preventing the brain from being overrun by useless memories.
The quality of sleep we’re getting affects our executive functioning and our ability to stay alert and pay attention. Individuals deprived of sleep for just 30 hours demonstrated deficits in verbal fluency, creative thinking and nonverbal planning.
Sleep deprivation impairs us in a way that is comparable to alcohol intoxication. Studies comparing performance showed that after 17 hours without sleep, performance was comparable to a blood alcohol content (BAC) of 0.05%. After 19 hours, impairment increased to the equivalent of 1.0% BAC.
2. Immune Function
Sleep helps our immune system. As we sleep immune function is optimized and the immune system is at its most effective. During wakefulness, the stress hormones adrenaline and epinephrine are secreted. These hormones inhibit the ability of T-cells (the immune cells that fight pathogens such as viruses and cancer) to function effectively. Lack of sleep not only leaves us more susceptible to infection and disease but slows recovery when we do get sick.
3. Maintaining Healthy Weight & Protecting Against Diabetes
Two key peptides work together to regulate our hunger and food intake. Ghrelin stimulates appetite, fat production, and body growth. Leptin suppresses appetite. During sleep deprivation, ghrelin spikes and leptin levels are depressed, leading to increased hunger and poor food choices.
Studies have shown that people who are sleep deprived eat more calories, snack more, and are less physically active.
During deep sleep, insulin levels and sensitivity (our ability to manage blood glucose levels) are regulated. Sleep deprivation can increase insulin sensitivity and decrease glucose tolerance. This make sleep deprivation a significant risk factor for obesity, insulin resistance, and Type 2 diabetes.
4. Cardiovascular Health
Research has identified a mechanism that links sleep to the production of hormones that help protect blood vessels from damage that can lead to atherosclerosis.
During sleep, the hormone hypocretin is released. Hypocretin regulates blood cell production and protects against atherosclerosis (the hardening and narrowing of arteries caused by fat deposits on arterial walls). Atherosclerosis can lead to cardiovascular diseases including heart attack and stroke.
Inflammation is a natural process that helps our body fight pathogens and recover from injury. Chronic, long-term inflammation, however, is harmful and can lead to autoimmune diseases and other chronic illnesses. Data shows an association between sleep disturbances and increases in inflammatory markers.
6. Mood & Mental Health
Sleep is deeply connected with our moods and emotional state. Sleeplessness causes irritability and anger and may lessen your ability to cope with stress. People who are sleep deprived are more likely to feel anger, frustration, irritability, and sadness.
Inflammation plays a role in psychological wellness as well. Evidence indicates that the combination of sleep deprivation with physical or psychological stress creates an increased vulnerability to depression.
Sleep-deprived people surveyed were also less likely than those who sleep well to engage in mood-boosting activities such as exercise, eating healthfully, sex, and leisure activities because of sleepiness.
Coming Up: Tips to Help You Get the Sleep You Need