Why Sleep Matters
How are you feeling today? How has your sleep been lately? If you’re like so many of us, you’re chronically under-rested. You’re simply not getting enough sleep.
Because we live in a go-go society that places importance on getting as much done as possible each day, sleep becomes a nice-to-have rather than a must-have.
The old saying “I’ll sleep when I’m dead”, used to be the catch-phrase for all of us who were busy getting on with life. It’s only in recent years that we’ve realized how important quality sleep is for every aspect of living.
In this article we dig into sleep and highlight how and why sleep is so critical to your mental health, your immune system health, and your ability to function on a daily basis.
What Happens When You Sleep
When you’re sleeping, your body is busy healing, resting, and recovering from the day. When you skimp on sleep or have a sleepless night, you’re missing out on the critical time your body needs to be ready for the next day.
Just as important as getting daily exercise, eating a balanced diet, and spending time outdoors – sleep is critical to your overall health and well-being.
There are two stages of sleep:
- Non-REM (rapid-eye movement) sleep: This is the first stage of sleep and involves four stages. In stage one, you’re awake and gradually falling asleep. In stage two, you’re in a light sleep, this is when your heart rate drops, your body temperature lowers, and your breathing slows. In stages three and four, you enter the deep sleep stage. Research reveals that non-REM sleep is the most important sleep phase for your learning and memory and this sleep gives you the most in the way of relaxation and restoration.
- REM (rapid-eye movement) sleep: This second stage of sleep is when your eyes become active, your brain activity is similar to when you’re awake, your breathing rate increases, and your body becomes slightly paralyzed when you dream.
When you sleep, you cycle through these two sleep stages on average four or five times. With each cycle, you spend less time in the non-REM deep sleep stages (three and four) and more time in REM sleep.
Signs You’re Not Getting Enough Sleep
You know how you feel after a sleepless night, but knowing the signs of chronic sleeplessness are key to creating change in your sleep habits and routine.
Sleeplessness impacts you more than you realize:
- Poor memory: When you sleep, your brain creates connections that allow you to remember and process new information. When you miss out on sleep, your short- and long-term memory can suffer.
- Mood changes: Have you ever been told that you got up on the wrong side of the bed? In other words, you woke up not as yourself. Instead of being happy and optimistic, you’re moody, emotional, short-tempered, and generally not your best self. Chronic sleeplessness can impact your mood so greatly that it leads to anxiety and depression.
- Immune system health: Your immune system is vital in defending against viruses such as the common cold and flu. When you’re run down and not giving your body a chance to recharge while you sleep, your immune system is weakened.
- Diabetes risk: When you’re low on sleep, your ability to regulate insulin is compromised. This can translate into higher than healthy blood sugar levels and put you at an elevated risk for Type 2 diabetes.
- Low sex drive: People who are low on sleep often suffer from a low libido and in men this sleeplessness can cause testosterone levels to drop.
- Lack of focus: When you’re tired you simply cannot concentrate, be creative, or manage challenging problems. Your brain is missing out on the rest it needs to help you process and make decisions.
- Frequent accidents: There is a reason why there are limits on how long we should drive without sleep. When we’re tired, we make more frequent mistakes that can cause accidents.
- High blood pressure: Research reveals that when you get less than five hours of sleep a night, you put yourself at risk for high blood pressure.
- Weight gain: Sleep is so critical in regulating crucial body chemicals and signals, including those that tell you when you’ve had enough to eat.
- Heart disease risk: When you’re low on sleep, your blood pressure is at risk of rising and your immune system is impacted – both combine to put you at an increased risk for heart disease.
To sum this all up, when you’re low on sleep – you simply don’t feel great. You’re tired, grumpy, hungry, struggling to get through the day, exhausted, angry, frustrated, coughing, sneezing, and in a constant cycle of being unwell.
How To Improve Your Sleep Quality
According to the National Sleep Foundation, there are four key determinants of sleep quality:
- Sleeping more time while in bed (at least 85%of the time)
- Falling asleep in 30 minutes or less
- Waking up no more than once per night
- Being awake for 20 minutes or less after initially falling asleep
To achieve or get more close to these quality sleep benchmarks, you can do the following to improve your sleep quality:
- Dark room: Create a dark sleep space, this helps your circadian rhythm stay consistent. Use dark curtains that block the light, don’t watch television in bed, keep the overhead light off, and leave your smartphone and mobile devices in another room.
- Read: You know how a bedtime story helps your kids fall asleep, the same holds true for you. Reading before bed can help you clear your mind, making it easier to enter the first stage of non-REM sleep.
- Skip naps: It’s tempting to nap in the afternoon, but this can make it harder to fall asleep in the evening.
- Schedule sleep: Try to go to bed and wake-up at the same time, seven days a week. Yes, even on the weekends when it’s tempting to sleep-in. Your body depends on a consistent and regular sleep schedule.
- Daily exercise: A walk, a run, a yoga session, a gym routine, etc. can help you fall asleep at night. Just try not to exercise right before going to bed.
- Room temperature: Sleeping can be challenging when it’s too hot and it’s too cold. The ideal room temperature according to the National Sleep Foundation is 65 degrees (18 C).
- Keep meals light: Try not to eat a big meal or to drink alcohol late in the evening. Doing so puts strain on your digestion and can cause indigestion. Try to eat a couple of hours before going to bed.
Treat yourself and give yourself a good night of sleep. Change the sheets on your bed, set out some clean pajamas, close the curtains, leave your smartphone in the kitchen, settle into bed to read for a few minutes, take some deep breaths, and let your mind relax.
We cannot stress enough how important sleep is for your mental, physical, emotional, and immune system health.
Make sleep a habit, just like exercising, cooking healthy meals, spending time with friends and family, and whatever else makes you feel good during the day. Visit the AHCC Research Facebook community page and tell us about sleep tips that are working for you.