There’s nothing quite like curling up in a cosy bed, sleeping peacefully for at least 8 hours, and waking up feeling well rested and refreshed. Most of us know how good it feels when we’re sleeping well, and how awful it can be when we’re not. Yet most adults nowadays aren’t sleeping nearly as much as we should be. But why is sleep so important?
The average American adult gets just 6 hours sleep a night, that’s a couple of hours less than is recommended by the International Sleep Foundation. And it’s not just the lack of sleep but the quality too, that is affecting our health, our mood, our looks, and even our bank balance.
Why Is Sleep Important For Good Health?
Sleep is one of the most basic human needs. It’s as important to our health as clean water, a good diet and regular exercise, yet it’s one of the first things we neglect when life gets busy. The irony is that that’s exactly when we need it the most.
People who have trouble sleeping and regularly get less than the recommended 8 hours have a harder time fighting off sickness. Their lack of sleep means they don’t have much immunity to common colds and viruses.
So how does sleep affect your immune system?
During sleep your body creates and releases cytokines, a type of protein that targets infection and inflammation. Without these your immune system’s response is weak and it has trouble fighting off infections and diseases, even the most common ones like a winter cold.
Deep sleep is when your body releases hormones that are vital for healthy growth and for repairing our cells. These actions take time. The body needs a certain amount of uninterrupted sleep to complete these tasks every night.
Not allowing our body the time to do what it needs to do to look after us can lead to more serious health issues such as heart disease, diabetes, kidney disease, high blood pressure, stroke and obesity.
Why Is Sleep Important For The Brain?
While we sleep our brain spends the night forming new pathways to help us learn and remember information, whilst weakening and getting rid of pathways that it doesn’t need. We take in so much information during our waking hours every day that the brain needs time to consolidate everything.
Memories and newly learned skills are moved to more permanent regions of the brain so that they are easier to recall in the future. Unimportant information that we’ve collected is cleared away.
During sleep your body produces an increased amount of a clear liquid called cerebrospinal fluid. This liquid moves through the brain, flushing out toxins and waste products that build up during the day and that could potentially contribute to harmful diseases such as Alzheimer’s. It does this job much more efficiently when we’re asleep as the space between our brain cells expands allowing the liquid easier access.
Why Is Sleep Important For Mental Health?
A link is often drawn between depression and sleep deprivation. Sometimes symptoms of depression appear before the onset of sleep problems, but other times the problems appear first and then lead to depression. The two share many risk factors and biological features, and they both respond to some of the same treatments.
Studies suggest that people who suffer with insomnia are 10X more likely to develop depression than those who sleep well.
There are different types of insomnia:
- sleep onset insomnia – difficulty falling asleep
- sleep maintenance insomnia – difficulty staying asleep
- hypersomnia – excessive sleepiness
People suffering from both insomnia and hypersomnia are more likely to have severe and longer-lasting depression. Severe sleep deprivation has been linked to risk taking behavior and suicide.
Stress works in a similar way. We’re either too stressed to sleep, or we’re stressed because we can’t sleep, and we all know how bad stress is for both our physical and mental well being.
Why Is It Important For Weight Loss?
Sleeping helps keep our hormones in healthy balance. When we don’t get enough sleep, our levels of ghrelin (the hungry hormone) go up and our levels of leptin (the full hormone) go down. That’s why we find ourselves reaching for the tub of ice cream at midnight.
Sleep also has an effect on the way insulin works in our bodies. Insulin is the hormone released from the pancreas that balances our blood sugar, turning glucose from the carbohydrates we eat into energy and storing the rest. Our bodies experience a surge in blood sugar at night, usually between 4am and 8am. It’s called the “dawn effect”.
A healthy body that is getting enough sleep can handle the surge efficiently by telling muscle, fat, and liver cells to absorb the glucose from the blood, keeping the levels stable. However, sleep deprivation can cause other hormones such as cortisol and the thyroid hormone to spike, affecting how insulin works and making us more resistant to it. When we’re resistant to it our body will start storing fat in all the wrong places.
When we’re tired our brain isn’t working at it’s best. This leads us into making a whole host of bad decisions that will affect our health and our weight. We feel more hungry and less satiated after we’ve eaten, leading us to eat more, craving food that isn’t good for us, greasy, salty food, or sweet things.
We also tend to eat more at night as we aren’t sleeping and the body isn’t prepared for this which takes us back to the insulin issue. It means we end up storing more fat because of it.
There’s also the effect tiredness has on our day to day lives. Who feels like getting up and heading to the gym after a bad night’s sleep? It’s easy to forgo the work out in favour of a giant latte when we’re feeling exhausted.
All these things affect our weight but don’t forget the most obvious, and simple, thing. The longer we’re asleep, the longer we are going without eating. This nighttime fasting has a huge positive impact on our health, and on our waistlines.
How Does Sleep Affect Performance?
You probably know yourself that when you’ve had a rough night you wake up feeling groggy. You just know it’s going to be a tough day at work. It’s pretty clear that when we’re not feeling our best then we’re not going to be able to give our best.
It even affects your emotional intelligence. One study by the Journal of Sleep Research revealed that people who were sleep deprived weren’t able to pick up on others emotional states and were therefore less empathetic toward them.
There have been several studies showing that sleep deficiency alters activity in some parts of the brain. It can cause us to have trouble making decisions, solving problems, controlling your emotions and behaviour, and coping with change. All skills that come in really handy in the workplace.
The RAND research group recently released a 100-page analysis of how sleep affects us and what sleep deprivation can do to us and to the economy. They estimate that between lost work and poor performance at work from lack of sleep, the U.S. alone loses $411 billion each year.
Not only that but there is a huge safety issue to consider. Studies show that sleep deficiency harms driving ability as much as, or more than, being drunk. It’s estimated that driver sleepiness is a factor in about 100,000 car accidents each year, resulting in about 1,500 deaths.
Workplace accidents are a common occurrence with sleep deprived people . In fact they are 70% more likely to have or cause and accident than their well rested colleagues. It really does have a significant effect on your performance.
What Is Beauty Sleep?
And finally… A good night’s sleep has a huge impact on the way we look. Yes, beauty sleep is a real thing. Your mother was right to make you go to bed early. We do all need our beauty sleep.
While we sleep our skin has time to heal itself from the damage of every day living. Pollution, sunbathing, harsh products, they all take their toll and nighttime is when the body works best to try to put things back in order. Late night’s tend to leave our skin looking pale and blotchy. We’re also less stressed when we are sleeping well, which means fewer spots and acne breakouts.
We’ve all had days when we wake up, look in the mirror and just think “What a mess!”. Bloodshot, puffy eyes and dark circles make it obvious to the whole world that we’ve had a bad night. Want sparkling whites? Get some shut-eye.
Researchers in Sweden asked a study group to look at pictures of sleep-starved people and people who’d had eight hours. The well-rested people seemed healthier, less tired and so were voted the more attractive ones.
And To All A Goodnight…
A good night’s sleep is so important, for so many reasons. We all need to be getting our required hours as often as possible. It’s easy to talk ourselves into believing that we can get by on little sleep with no negative side effects. Unfortunately that’s not the case. Research shows that getting enough quality sleep at the right times is vital for our mental and physical health.
If we want to look our best, feel our best, and perform at our best, basically if we want to be the best version of ourselves then we need to make sleep a priority. That’s why sleep is so important.
There are some things we can do to make the absolute most of the sleep we do get, certain hacks that we’ll discuss in another post. For now just go and get your head down.
Sweet Dreams Everyone x