Why You Should Take Sleep More Seriously
Society today values physical and mental well-being but often overlooks one vital component to both... sleep. The lack of sleep, both in quality and quantity, can affect nearly every aspect of your daily life. After an intense workout, your muscles need to refuel and recover. Similarly, after being alert for a substantial period, your body needs to recuperate and repair. This is done through sleep. Restful sleep has almost innumerable benefits for your mental and physical health. Many bodily functions are reliant on sleep, including metabolism, hormone production, work productivity, happiness levels and lifespan.
When you lay down and close your eyes, your body will experience two phases of sleep during the night. The first stage of sleep is known as Slow Wave Sleep. The brain slows down, your body relaxes, and your breathing becomes deep and even. You will spend most of the night in this phase, and scientists believe our body relies on this sleep to restore physical function and energy. After a period of slow wave sleep, your body enters REM or Rapid Eye Movement. It is thought that during this level of unconsciousness the brain undertakes sorting mental and emotional experiences. Most characterizations of sleep are often REM sleep; think drooling, mumbling, and movement of the eyes beneath their lids. The muscles of the body are essentially paralyzed, but breathing becomes spasmodic and brain cells fire rapidly and inconsistently. It is typically during this stage that dreaming happens. Scientists are still unsure about why dreams occur or what purpose they may serve, but suspect dreaming ties into memory management and storage.
Higher Productivity and Performance
We often think of sleep as the nemesis of productivity, but as you slumber your body and brain are hard at work. Using products that contain caffeine or other stimulants is not recommended. If you are struggling to stay awake, listen to your body and get some shut-eye. While you snooze, your body is working to repair muscles, tissues, and organs. Your lymphatic and circulatory systems transport waste products and chemicals that strengthen your immune system. Running yourself ragged can upset the functions of your immune system, leaving you more susceptible to illnesses.
By skipping hours of precious rest, you are putting your health at risk. Ultimately, you could end up staying in bed with a cold longer than if you would have just taken a short break to catch up on some sleep. Hormone levels adjust when your body is at rest and sleep is required for proper hormonal balance. The imbalance triggered by sleep loss can lead to fertility issues and affect your metabolism. After a night with little to no sleep, the hormone responsible for appetite suppression can be found in higher levels, leading to hunger and possibly weight gain.
Not getting enough zzz’s is also linked to a shortening of lifespan and an increased risk of some troubling conditions. The National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute states that consistent sleep deprivation and deficiency “increases your risk of heart disease, kidney disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, and stroke”. Children and teens require more sleep than adults to support proper learning, growth, and development. The occasional late-night study session may not hurt you, but frequently forgoing sleep to work or play is detrimental to your health.
Sleep can even lead to better looking skin. When you sleep HGH, or the Human Growth Hormone, is released. Part of this hormone’s responsibility is repairing skin that sustains damage throughout the day from smog, sun and harsh chemicals. Without enough HGH your skin cannot keep its youthful glow. Your hair may suffer as well. A dearth of sleep causes cortisol, the hormone primarily associated with stress, to rise. Increased stress levels have been associated with hair loss and hair fragility. Beauty sleep is no myth!
At night, your brain receives a well-deserved break from sensory stimuli and has the opportunity to sort vital pieces of information. While asleep, the brain processes your daily experiences; clearing out unimportant data and formulating the rest into memories. To support adequate cognitive function the following day, most adults require seven to nine hours of sleep per twenty-four hours. If you did not sleep well the night before you are susceptible to irritability, memory impairment, and reductions in alertness.
Employers that are committed to employee wellness should promote a good night’s rest. Failing to obtain seven hours of sleep or more at night can translate to low productivity at work. A small percentage of Americans have even reported falling asleep at work, prompting some companies to create on-site nap rooms for a midday snooze. Asking your staff to put in outlandish hours can decrease output and jeopardize their health. The ability to react and think quickly is necessary for a variety of daily tasks, most notably driving. A National Sleep Foundation poll found that “60% of Americans have driven while feeling sleepy and 37% admit to actually having fallen asleep at the wheel in the past year”. Your safety and the safety of those around you are a compelling reason why you should take sleep seriously.
Improved Mental Health
Finally, your mental health may depend on getting some shut-eye. Sleep and sleep disorders have been found to correlate closely with depression. Often one ailment can be a symptom of another, and vice versa. Those with insomnia or the inability to sleep “have a tenfold risk of developing depression compared with those who sleep well” according to the National Sleep Foundation. But for others, symptoms of depression may appear first and contribute to future sleep disorders.
Loss of sleep may not seem a likely cause when suffering from a lack of motivation, optimism, and energy, but it is often the culprit. Pulling an all-nighter infrequently may leave you feeling lethargic the next day, but consistently missing sleep can slowly degrade your mental health and outlook. If you find yourself routinely not getting enough sleep or being unable to sleep, it would be wise to bring it up with your doctor.
Whether you just want to look and feel your best, climb the corporate ladder or have a positive outlook on life one thing remains true, you should take sleep seriously.
***Written for Meridian Counseling by Aaron Stevenson. Aaron is the owner at snoozeez.com. He is constantly researching, reading, and writing about sleep. He does it so much that he could probably afford to get a little more sleep himself!