It seems that the more we advance as a society, the more something important gets shoved aside. Whether it’s taking time to be with family, finding time to be outdoors every day, cooking our own food, our desire to make more money, or “live life to the fullest” we’re willing to shortchange one area of life to make room for another. And it just so happens that one of our most important needs has likewise gone by the wayside, and it’s affecting more of us than we think.
The fact is: less and less of us are getting enough sleep.
While we know inherently that sleep is essential for our well being, there are still millions of people not getting enough of it. The American Psychological Association revealed a study by the National Sleep Foundation that “at least 40 million Americans suffer from over 70 different sleep disorders and 60 percent of adults report having sleep problems a few nights a week or more.”
That is more than just a few people suffering the many effects of poor sleep, and more often than not, these kinds of problems go undiagnosed and untreated. Even still, unsatisfactory sleep habits cause more issues than what might have us reach for another, stronger morning latté.
Here are 4 reasons why sleep is important and good for you:
1. Rejuvenates the Body
Sleep is when your body repairs itself, including our heart and blood vessels. Sleep also promotes proper growth throughout the body. Excellent to consider when it comes to our little ones and teens.
It’s in those still, dark hours that all our systems get a thorough check up, and takes full account of which organs are in need of some TLC.
Our body does some of its most important healing work when we sleep. In the few hours you spend in REM, your brain is busy trying to organize your dreamy random thoughts and myriads of brain signals. Meanwhile, your body is busy producing new cells required to store proteins and to renew all the other major and minor systems in the body. It’s one reason why when we’re feeling under the weather, a nice warm bed and some extra hours spent horizontal feel so incredible.
But these days, we’re so over-stimulated that our minds (which should be in a state of rest and relaxation during the sleeping hours) and bodies, are tense and overtired all day long. Perhaps this is why so many of us (even when we are getting those precious 8-10 hours of sleep – or more) still wake up feeling exhausted. We don’t feel full embodied, or joyful, and so many of us feel like everything is dragging.
Deep sleep triggers the body to release the hormone that promotes normal growth in children and teens. This has been common knowledge in the medical field since 1968, when Dr. Takahashi spearheaded a study about the relationship between sleep and human growth hormone, which was published in the Journal of Clinical Investigation. This hormone also boosts muscle mass and helps repair cells and tissues in children, teens, and adults. Without proper sleep, our bodies have no energy and our minds are inefficient. Loss of sleep, or insomnia, interferes with our ability to work and think clearly. Our bodies feel heavy, lethargic and sometimes achy. The appetite is weakened and digestion is impaired. Ongoing deficiency has been shown to cause an increased risk of heart disease, kidney disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, and stroke.
2. Regulates Your Metabolism
Sleep also affects how your body reacts to insulin, the hormone that controls your blood glucose (sugar) levels. Chronic sleep deficiency has been seen to result in higher blood sugar levels, which puts us at risk for several blood or metabolic disorders. It also alters the kinds of hormones that affect our appetite. Therefore, it should be no surprise that chronic sleep deprivation leads to increased weight gain due to the way it affects our body’s ability to process and store carbohydrates. In fact, in June of 2009, the American Academy of Sleep Medicine conducted a study that deduced how “the body mass Index [was] a function of habitual sleep duration [and]with each hour lost, the odds of becoming obese went up.” Without sleep, we risk the our body’s ability to maintain a healthy balance of the hormones that make us feel hungry (ghrelin) or full (leptin). When we don’t get enough sleep, our levels of ghrelin increase and our levels of leptin wane. This makes us feel hungrier throughout the day than we might be if we were well rested.
3. Improves Your Memory, Makes You Smarter, and Happier
It seems obvious enough that sleep helps the brain to work the way it’s meant to. After a long day our brain filters through the experiences and sensual input it received and catalogs it accordingly. While we sleep, our brain is busy preparing us for when we awake and all that will be required of us the next day. It’s forming new pathways to help you learn and remember information.
The National Heart, Blood, and Lung studies show that a good night’s sleep improves our ability to learn: “Whether you’re learning math, how to play the piano, how to perfect your golf swing, or how to drive a car, sleep helps enhance your learning and problem-solving skills. Sleep also helps you pay attention, make decisions, and be creative.”
Studies also show that sleep deficiency alters activity in different parts of our brain, so, if you’re not getting the quality of sleep you need and deserve, you may notice you have trouble making decisions, solving problems, controlling your emotions and behavior, and coping with change. Sleep deficiency also has been linked to depression, suicide, and risk taking or adrenaline addiction. Since sleep helps the brain commit new information to memory, a lack of it leads to poor retention and makes it difficult to learn.
Sleep loss may result in irritability, impatience, inability to concentrate, and moodiness. Too little sleep can also leave you too tired to do the things you like to do.
4. Helps You Fight off Disease
When it comes to our ability to maintain a high level of wellness, one organ in particular needs to remain in the highest working order. In Traditional Chinese Medicine, the heart is considered the Emperor, but our livers are considered the seat of the Ethereal Soul. Turns out, our liver may love sleep more than we think we do.
The University of Pennsylvania released research about how our liver works on a daily rhythm. This speaks to why those doing graveyard shifts, and others who are regularly sleep deprived, tend to have problems with obesity, insulin production/resistance, diabetes, cardiovascular problems and other features of metabolic syndrome. This is because the liver, when unrested can’t process fat efficiently. In such a state, adipose fat accumulates.
Your immune system relies on sleep to stay healthy. This system defends your body against foreign or harmful substances. Ongoing sleep deficiency can change the way in which your immune system responds. For example, if you’re sleep deficient, you may have trouble fighting common infections.
Dr. Sheldon Cohen (from Carnegie Mellon) headed a study examining the relationship between sleep and viral immunity, and found that those getting less than seven hours of sleep per night were much more likely (nearly three times as much) to “catch the common cold” than someone able to grasp that sometimes elusive eight hours a night.
Serious sleep disorders have been linked to hypertension, increased stress hormone levels, irregular heartbeat, and depression. Sleep deprivation alters immune function, including the activity of the body’s suicide cells. “Keeping up with sleep may also help fight cancer.”
A study published last in 2013 in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences found that if you sleep less than six hours a night it affects the activity of over 700 genes, and not for the better.
This indicates that lack of sleep – anything less than 6 hours per night – may challenge the normal activity of our genetic ability to live in sync with the natural circadian rhythms. Every system suffers in some regard.
While more research is needed to explore the links between chronic sleep loss and health, it’s safe to say that sleep is too important to shortchange.
When we’re getting high quality 8-10 hours of sleep (depends on the person of course), our immune systems work best, and we have a better chance of fighting off infection and disease. We improve our physical performance, our mental state, and ability to recover after exercise. We digest better. We metabolize carbs better. Our brain works better. We feel happier, and more sociable. Fat stores are accessed and then burned off. In fact, fat burning is at its best when our growth hormone plasma levels peak when we sleep – just as Dr. Takahashi’s study proved!
When we forgo good sleep, however, our insulin sensitivity will decrease, which makes it difficult for the body to effectively metabolize carbohydrates, or burn fat stores. Our ability to lose excess weight becomes more troublesome. Our blood pressure rises. Our other hormone systems are also interrupted. Our growth hormones, which helps to restore our cellular systems become depleted.
Considering how intimately our psychosomatic biology is tied to our circadian rhythms, it’s no wonder that good things happen when we get enough sleep.
The Institute for the Psychology of Eating
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