The importance of sleep

Sleep is important, but Why?

We all know sleep is important, but why is it important? Sleep helps us maintain our body composition, retain memory, regulate hormones, and support our immune function. Body composition is an important metric because poor body composition is associated with so many chronic conditions such as high blood pressure, metabolic disease, cardiovascular disease, sleep apnea, and several more. Just as our bodies need rest, our brains do too. While our brains never truly rest, they do need that time asleep to catalog our memories, regulate our hormones, and boost our immune functions. How can anything work to its full potential if you only charge it to 50 percent?

Sleep and Body Composition

The correlation between sleep deprivation and obesity has been established for some time. Several factors contribute to this correlation. Lack of sleep leads to an imbalance in leptin and ghrelin, your hunger hormones. Have you ever noticed severe cravings on the days after sleepless nights? Behavior habits commonly linked with poor sleep habits such as an increase in digital media (watching television and scrolling through the internet) promote reduced activity and increased caloric intake, in turn, promoting weight gain. Sleep reduction also spikes the stress hormone cortisol. Increased cortisol reduces muscle recovery and growth. To maintain a healthy body composition, muscle growth and maintenance are imperative.

Sleep and Memory

Sleep plays a large role in memory. Specifically, sleep deprivation results in decreased memory retention. Our brains process and consolidate memory while we sleep, converting short term memory into long term memory. For this reason, sleep is crucial to the developing brain. Quality of sleep greatly impacts learning and brain plasticity.  This is not limited to school-based learning, but is applicable to real life skills and processes. Some telltale cognitive signs that you are not getting enough sleep include lack of alertness, inability to hold a train of thought, irritability, decreased mood, and tiredness.

Sleep and Immune Response

It has been observed that reduced sleep impairs immune functioning by facilitating T-Cell activity. In the current state of the world, immune functioning is on top of everyone’s minds, and of great importance. Disruption in sleep schedules and sleep deprivation can influence your ability to fight infections. Generally, adults are recommended to get 7-9 hours of continuous sleep each night.

Sleep Hygiene

So how do you ensure a good night’s sleep?

  • Make a regular sleep routine and go to bed when you are tired. Go to bed and wake up around the same time every day. Everything gets better with practice.
  • Don’t go to bed if you are not tired and avoid daytime naps. This strengthens the subconscious association between your bed and sleeping. Don’t use your bed to watch TV or to work – your bed is not your work from home office!
  • Make your sleeping environment as possible. Make sure the room is at a cool temperature. Sleep on a comfortable mattress, with comfortable sheets and pillows. Sleep in a dark room. Some people prefer ambient noise, others prefer silence. If you do prefer ambient noise, make sure it is dull, consistent sounds without pitch changes. A fan or ocean waves work great, as opposed to a TV show or street noise.
  • Avoid stimulants too close to bed. This might seem like a no-brainer, but caffeine, nicotine, and even alcohol can cause problems with a good night’s sleep.
  • Stop watching the clock. Thinking “if I fall asleep now, I’ll get 5 hours of sleep” is a great way to worry yourself to a sleepless night. Keep your eyes off the clock and think of something relaxing with your eyes closed.
  • Keep your eyes off your screens! Cell phones, TV screens, laptops, and all other electronic devices emit a type of “blue light” that affects your ability to go to sleep by suppressing your natural melatonin production. Avoid using these devices within a couple hours of going to sleep for a better night’s sleep. Some devices have settings to reduce blue light emissions and blue light glasses may help reduce exposure as well.
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Bayon, V., Leger, D., Gomez-Merino, D., Vecchierini, M.F., & Chennaoui, M. (2014, July 11). Sleep debt and obesity. Annals of Medicine, 46(5), 264-272. 
Besedovsky, L., Lange, T., & Born, J. (2012, January). Sleep and immune function. Pflugers Archiv: European journal of physiology, 463(1), 121-137. 
Dattilo, M., Antunes, H.K.M., Medeiros, A., Monico Neto, M., Souza, H.S., Tufik, S., & de Mello, M.T. (2011, August). Sleep and muscle recovery: endocrinological and molecular basis for a new and promising hypothesis. Medical Hypotheses, 77(2), 220-222. 
Kurien, P.A., Chong, S.Y.C., Ptacek, L.J., & Fu, Y.H. (2013, October). Sick and Tired: How molecular regulators of human sleep schedules and duration impact immune function. Current Opinions in Neurobiology, 23(5), 873-879.
Walker, M.P. & Stickgold, R. (2005, April). It's practice, with sleep, that makes perfect: implications of sleep-dependent learning and plasticity for skill performance. Clinics in sports medicine, 24(2), 301-317. 

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