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The Importance of Sleep

Updated on December 2, 2017
Ken Burgess profile image

Grew up on Cape Cod, Mass, Army Vet., Fmr. Director of Energy Conservation programs, RE Agent, current residence the Space Coast, FL

The Importance of Sleep

Sleep plays a vital role in good health. Getting enough quality sleep at the right times can help protect your mental and physical health and your ability to enjoy a better quality of life.

Consistently getting a good amount of sleep is incredibly important, it’s just as important as eating healthy and exercising.

Ongoing sleep deficiency can raise your susceptibility to many chronic health problems, it has been linked to increased risk of high blood pressure, diabetes, heart disease, kidney disease, and stroke.

It will also affect how well you think, learn, react, and get along with others. Lack of sleep can also cause sluggish or delayed reaction leading to tragic accidents, such as car and aviation accidents.

Sleep's link to Weight gain

Sleep deprivation and poor sleep habits have strong links to weight gain. In fact, short sleep duration is one of the strongest risk factors to weighing significantly more than those who get adequate sleep

In one study, children suffering sleep deprivation were 90% more likely to become obese, in adults it was 55% more likely. The study showed this was linked to several factors including hormones released during sleep, the body’s ability to cleanse waste and toxins (many of which are contained in today’s processed foods), and its ability to repair and re-energize the body for the next day.

Sleep deprived individuals tend to eat more calories. Hormones linked to appetite regulation are impacted by sleep, those lacking in sleep tend to produce higher levels of ghrelin, the hormone that stimulates appetite, and reduced levels of leptin, the hormone that suppresses appetite.

If you are trying to lose weight having enough quality sleep is absolutely crucial.

Sleep lowers Risk of Heart Disease and Stroke

Sleep is involved in healing and repairing of your heart and blood vessels. Ongoing sleep deficiency is linked to an increased risk of heart disease, high blood pressure, and stroke.

Several studies found that short sleepers are at far greater risk of heart disease or stroke than those who sleep an average of 8 hours per night. Whereas those who slept less than an average of 8 hours per night showed increased risk of heart disease and stroke.

Sleep lowers Risk of Diabetes

Studies have shown that restricting sleep to four hours per night, for only six nights in a row caused symptoms of pre-diabetes in young people who otherwise had no history or symptoms.

Sleep affects blood sugar and reduces insulin sensitivity. Insulin is the hormone that controls your blood glucose (sugar) level. Poor sleep habits are strongly linked to adverse effects on blood sugar. Studies have shown those sleeping less than 6 hours per night have increased risk for type 2 diabetes.

Sleep Improves Immune System performance

Your immune system relies on sleep to stay healthy. The immune system is the network of cells, tissues, and organs in your body that work together to defend the body against attacks by viruses and bacteria as well as other foreign or harmful substances. If you're sleep deficient, you may have trouble fighting common infections and healing may take longer.

Sleep effects the body’s Inflammatory Responses

Poor sleep is known to activate undesirable markers of inflammation and cell damage, and has been strongly linked to long-term inflammation of the digestive tract, in disorders known as inflammatory bowel diseases.

One study showed that sleep deprived patients with Crohn's disease were two times as likely to relapse as patients who slept eight hours or more.

Inflammation is also linked to heart disease, stroke, diabetes, arthritis, and premature aging. Research indicates that people who get six or fewer hours of sleep a night have higher blood levels of inflammatory proteins than those who get eight hours or more.

One study found that C-reactive protein, which is associated with heart attack risk, was higher in people who got six or fewer hours of sleep a night.

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Sleep Affects Emotional and Social Interaction

Children (teens and younger) who are sleep deficient may have problems getting along with others. They are more likely to feel angry, be impulsive, have mood swings, feel sad or depressed, and lack motivation. They also may have problems paying attention, resulting in lower grades and feel stressed.

Studies have also shown that children who are awoken for school prior to their natural sleep pattern completing on its own, are likely to suffer these problems, children can need up to twelve hours of sleep to recover from the day’s stresses and the bodies growth and development.

Sleep deficiency can cause you to have trouble remaining calm, controlling your emotions and behavior, and coping with change. Sleep deficiency also has been linked to depression, suicide, and risk-taking behavior.

Studies have shown that poor sleep affects your ability to recognize important social cues and process emotional information.

To summarize, sleep is equally important as proper nutrition and exercise in our daily lives.

Sleep Can Improve Memory and Concentration

While you're sleeping, your brain is preparing for the next day. It's forming new pathways to help you learn and remember information. Sleep improves your ability to concentrate and remember.

Studies show that a good night's sleep improves your learning and problem-solving skills. Sleep also helps you pay attention, make decisions, and be creative. Not having enough sleep has the opposite effects, causing you to have trouble making decisions and solve problems.

Good sleep maximizes problem solving skills and enhances memory. Poor sleep can impair brain function, the more severe the lack of sleep is, the worse the brain functions.

Five ways to improve your Sleep

Other than the obvious ones like Quit Smoking (nicotine is a stimulant), and limit or quit drinking Coffee (especially after your waking hours), things which often harm your health, not just your ability to sleep, here are some tips.

Don’t eat a heavy meal near Sleep time. A big meal just before bed isn’t good for your sleep, or your health. Eat lightly, if at all, before bed, and avoid foods that might cause you to have stomach trouble.

Get into a routine if possible. If your life allows it, become habituated to going to bed and getting up at set times, whether its a weekday or weekend. It might seem like a punishment on the weekends (or days off) but it will help your body, and your ability to fall asleep as the routine sets in.

Workout regularly. Adding exercise to your daily regimen helps with all kinds of things that may interfere with your sleep, from anxiety and depression. Polls have shown that people who exercise regularly, even if they don’t get any more sleep than non-exercisers, report a better quality of sleep.

Put away that laptop, phone, and tablet. If you want to read before bed, don’t use a light-emitting screen. All light slows down the production of melatonin, the hormone that helps us sleep. Studies have found that people who use these devices at bedtime take longer to fall asleep and have disrupted circadian rhythms.

Reduce disruptive sounds. You may be going to bed when other people in the house are still up and moving around. Or perhaps you live near a street with a lot of traffic noise. Using a sleep machine that creates background sound (rain, white noise) can help drown out those noises. You can even find videos on Youtube, Amazon, and elsewhere that you can let play that will give hours of rain falling or a fan running, whatever works to help you sleep.

How many hours of Sleep do you get on average?

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