“Sleep is actually important for just about everything,” says Dr. Michael Breus, Clinical Psychologist with a specialty in Sleep Disorders. “Everything from immune system to cognition, how you think, how quickly you react.[i]
Sleep plays a critical role in keeping both the body and mind healthy. Sleep is essential to maintaining and repairing key internal functions, as well as helping to protect mental health, physical health, quality of life, and safety. All the functions that are affected by sleep may also be negatively affected by a lack of sleep, which can be even more detrimental to one’s health by increasing the risk of serious diseases, obesity and other ailments.[ii]
So, how does sleep benefit us, and how is a lack of sleep detrimental to our health? Read on to learn more.
Function and Development:
Getting a good night’s sleep is vital to the brain and body’s functions. When the body is asleep, it’s helping to repair cells and tissues and build muscle mass.[iii] Alternatively, sleep deprivation has been shown to increase the risk of heart disease, kidney disease, diabetes and stroke.[iv]
One night of sleep loss alone increases toxic substances in the body that can lead to cancer, arthritis and heart disease. Getting only a few hours of a sleep has also been linked to increased risk of high blood pressure and heart attacks. [v]
Sleep also impacts the brain and can affect how well a person thinks, learns, reacts, works, and gets along with others.[vi] A lack of sleep can negatively alter brain activity, causing problems with decision-making, memory, attention span and ability to control emotions and behavior.[vii]
Sleep is a critical factor in day-to-day health. Sleep deficiency has been shown to severely disrupt the normal functioning of the immune system, which makes the body more at risk to infections and sickness.[viii] This reaction also happens in response to extreme stress.
Lack of sleep can be especially detrimental to children and teens, since their risk of being overweight as an adult increases due to poor sleep habits as a child.[ix] Sleep deprivation in teens can also lead to unhealthy behaviors and may onset feelings of depression and anxiety.[x]
How Can We Improve the Quality of our Sleep and the Quality of our Health?
Create a sleep routine by maintaining a regular sleep schedule. Go to bed at the same time every night and wake up the same time every day – even on weekends.
Try to eliminate noise and light at bedtime, which can interrupt sleep. If you cannot avoid noise or light, try wearing earplugs and sleep masks to mitigate outside distractions. In addition to a cool, quiet room, a comfortable and supportive mattress can eliminate physical discomfort throughout the night that might lead to sleep disruption.
Mattress fit is one of the most critical factors in getting a good night’s sleep. It is important to get the correct mattress fit as each body responds differently to different types of mattresses. Since everyone’s sleep needs are unique, invest in a mattress that provides the right amount of firmness and support to ensure body comfort and an uninterrupted healthy night’s sleep.
Sleeping problems can be a vicious cycle, with a lack of sleep causing extra anxiety, and extra anxiety making it harder still to fall asleep the next night. Combine those factors with the body’s natural, negative reaction to deal with stress rather than ignore it and you’ll find it harder to fall asleep and stay asleep.
Deep breathing or meditation can help to de-stress before hitting the sheets. Yoga can also be a relaxer; some slow stretches will help the body and mind unwind before going to sleep.[xi] Reading a book, taking a bath, listening to soft music, or drinking herbal (non-caffeinated) tea are all good calming activities to do before bed and will subliminally prepare the mind for sleep.[xii]
Make a healthy night’s sleep a priority, and you’ll be rewarded with a healthy body too.