Have you ever been told to mind your sleep? Perhaps you’ve heard that sleep is important for your health, but don’t fully understand why?
I mean, if sleep is just about resting your body and you feel fine on 5-hours, then isn’t striving for 8-hours just a waste of time?
Sure…IF sleep was just about resting your body.
We tend to think about sleep as a type of ‘shut down’ mode for the body, when in fact, it is quite the opposite. Sleep is a crucial and very active period in which vital processing, restoration and strengthening takes place.
For example, without sleep your memory would be critically impaired. It is during your slumber hours that the brain consolidates and solidifies information and memories gathered throughout the day. Instead of recording and logging information as you go throughout your day, the body relies on sleep to process all of these facts and experiences. As you sleep, the body will transfer pieces of information from your short to your long-term memory in a process called “consolidation.” It’s no surprise then that sleep is often emphasized before a big exam or presentation. In fact, researchers have continuously shown that after sleep, people tend to retain information and perform better on memory tasks.
Now, while we can’t say for sure why the human body has been programmed for such long periods of shuteye – 7-9 hours per night folks! – if we take a look at just a few of the critical functions which take place during sleeping hours, it’s not so surprising why we would need so much (nor why we can begin to feel completely discombobulated following just a few days of disrupted sleep!!):
Perhaps the most apparent reason why we sleep is to feel adequately; allowing you to feel alert during waking hours. Getting a good night of sleep sets the tone for the next day, as if you don’t get enough, you might find yourself feeling tired or even nodding off during an important meeting. Your energy usage is significantly reduced while you sleep, with both body temperature and caloric demand decreasing. This allows the body to conserve energy resources – an important survival mechanism in times where food is scarce.
Supports Healthy Habits
When you don’t sleep well, you can feel tired; and let’s be honest, when you’re tired, you’re a lot less likely to hit the gym before work or take the stairs instead of the elevator. The body will also conserve less energy leading to increased cravings for high energy foods such as sugar and other simple carbohydrates. You might also find yourself relying more on stimulants such as caffeine to get you through the day which can lead to dehydration, jitters and disrupted sleep if you’re not careful!
If you need to be on top of your game at work, then sleep is your friend. Sacrificing sleep in order to revise notes or catch-up on emails may not serve you well in the long run, as information recall, focus and clarity can be some of the first functions to go when you’re not sleeping well.
Pillar of Positivity
Did you know that sleep deprivation is strongly associated with increases in negative moods including anger, frustration, irritability and sadness?1,2 In fact, those with sleep problems are at an increased risk for developing emotional disorders such as anxiety and depression.3
Are you the person who is constantly catching a cold or flu? Well, if you’re experiencing lack of, or poor-quality sleep, then improving your sleep hygiene might be worth considering. Not only are infection fighting cells and antibodies reduced during periods when you don’t get enough sleep, but continued lack of sleep can cause over stimulation of the bodies stress response, leading to inflammation and eventually immunodeficiency – making your body less effective at staving off germs and infection!
1. Saghir, Z., Syeda, J. N., Muhammad, A. S. & Balla Abdalla, T. H. The Amygdala, Sleep Debt, Sleep Deprivation, and the Emotion of Anger: A Possible Connection? Cureus (2018). doi:10.7759/cureus.2912
2. Gruber, R. & Cassoff, J. The Interplay Between Sleep and Emotion Regulation: Conceptual Framework Empirical Evidence and Future Directions. Current Psychiatry Reports 16, (2014).
3. Babson, K. A., Trainor, C. D., Feldner, M. T. & Blumenthal, H. A test of the effects of acute sleep deprivation on general and specific self-reported anxiety and depressive symptoms: An experimental extension. J. Behav. Ther. Exp. Psychiatry 41, 297–303 (2010).