In a world where we seem to live in constant overdrive, sleep is often the first thing we sacrifice to keep up the pace. In fact, we respect sleep so little that we’ve forgotten that it’s not optional. Just like breathing and eating, you literally cannot live without sleep. Stop allowing it to take a back seat in your life.
As we drift off each night, our bodies are regenerating and our brain is processing information to prepares us for the next day. A good night’s rest makes us healthier, more productive and even more creative.
Sleep deprivation, on the other hand, makes us moody, irritable and puts us at risk for some serious health issues.
Here’s what you need to know about the importance of catching your z’s.
Your Brain Needs Sleep. Duh.
You’ve probably noticed you have a hard time focusing when you haven’t been sleeping enough. That’s because at night your brain is forming new pathways to help you process and remember information.
You need those connections to help you learn everything from mental tasks like math to physical activities like football or ballet.
Sleep also helps you problem solve, make decisions and be more creative.
Want to get more productivity out of your brain?
Instead of staying up late to finish projects, try getting a good night’s rest.
Sleep Helps Your Emotional Stability
Missing a night’s sleep can make anyone irritable. But if you’re not getting enough sleep on a regular basis, you may have trouble controlling your emotions and behavior.
Long term sleep deprivation is actually linked to anxiety, depression and other mood disorders.
It’s also been shown to encourage risk-taking behavior in some people.
Sleep Is Good For Your Heart
Just like your mental and emotional well-being, sleep is also vital to your physical health.
Because your heart rate increases when you don’t get enough sleep, you’re more at risk for high blood pressure and strokes.
Sleep Helps You Stay Slim
People that sleep less than 7 hours a night have a tendency to gain weight more quickly.
That’s because sleep is also important to hormonal balance. Ghrelin is a hormone that makes the body feel hungry, while leptin makes us feel full.
When you’re sleep-deprived, your level of ghrelin goes up, making you feel more hungry than usual. That’s why a lack of sleep is associated with weight gain.
In teenagers, a lack of sleep has been shown to increase the risk of obesity for every hour of sleep they lose.
Sleep and Diabetes
Another downside of sleep deprivation is that it increases blood sugar levels, which can increase the risk of diabetes.
Sleep Boosts Your Immune System
Want to avoid that bug that’s been going around the office?
Getting enough sleep can help. That’s because sleep helps keep your immune system strong.
If you’re not getting enough sleep, you may find you have a hard time fending off colds, flu and other common infections.
Sleep and Sex Drive
Sleep is even good for your libido. Studies have shown that a lack of it can decreases your interest in sex.
And if you’re trying to conceive, getting enough rest is also important. Sleep is related to hormonal balance which includes reproductive hormones.
How Much Sleep Is Enough?
How much sleep you need depends on your age.
Children and teenagers need more because they’re still growing and developing.
And while the amount may vary slightly between adults, most of us need 7 to 8 hours a night.
Sleep loss also adds up.
So say you’re sleeping 1 hour less a night. That means in a week’s time, you’ll have 7 hours of sleep debt.
And unfortunately, napping is not a solution.
It may give you a quick boost, but it doesn’t provide all the same benefits of night-time sleep.
That’s why sleep debt is nearly impossible to overcome. In addition to your standard 7 to 8 hours, you need to increase your hours of night-time sleep to make up for it.
So if you’re feeling exhausted due to long-term sleep deprivation, you’ll need to get to bed a few hours earlier every night for a good stretch of time.
So Why Aren’t We Getting Enough Shut-eye?
One in three Americans doesn’t get enough sleep. That’s a huge part of the population.
This is due to a lot of factors. Stress, too much time on electronic devices, alcohol, caffeine and a lack of physical exercise are all culprits.
10 Ways to Sleep Better
Just like diet and exercise, it’s important to develop good sleeping habits if we want to stay healthy.
Here are 10 ways you can improve your nightly rest.
1. Make Sleep a Priority
The first and most important rule is to respect how important sleep is to your health. Once you really take that in, you can take steps to improve it.
2. Go to Bed at the Same Time Every Night
Our bodies have a natural rhythm that tells us when we should be awake or sleeping. When you stay up late, you can throw off your body clock and be thrown out of sync.
This may be harder on the weekend. But it’s still important not to vary your schedule too much.
Exercise is also essential if you want to get enough sleep. Just make sure you don’t do it too late as this can raise your heart rate and make it difficult to drift off.
4. Ditch your Electronic Devices an Hour before Bedtime
Blue light from your electronic devices affects melatonin, a sleep hormone. So try to put them down early if you want to get a good night’s rest.
5. Cut Caffeine Use After 2pm
The effects of caffeine last for far longer than we realize and can interrupt your sleep patterns even hours later. So best to skip that afternoon latte.
6. Sleep in a Dark Room
Turn off the lights and make sure you block external light sources with a curtain. Even the glow from your electronic devices should be covered.
7. Make your Bedroom a Sacred Place
Using your bedroom exclusively for resting and romance will also help set the scene for a good night’s sleep.
Avoid watching TV, working on your computer and talking on your phone while in bed.
8. Avoid Late-Night Eating and Alcohol Consumption
Make sure you don’t eat heavily or drink alcohol within two hours of going to bed. This can affect your resting heart rate and throw off your sleep patterns.
Alcohol may seem to help you get to sleep faster but actually interrupts sleep patterns later in the night.
9. Use Relaxation Techniques and Sleep Aids
Taking a hot bath or using other relaxation techniques (such as breathing exercises) can also help calm you down before bedtime.
Troubled sleepers may also want to investigate using a white noise machine or weighted blankets which also help to soothe you.
10. Love your Bed
We (hopefully) spend about 8 hours in bed at night. Investing in a mattress and pillow that you feel comfortable with is well worth the investment.
As you can see, sleep is vital to our health.
Staying aware of that fact is key if you want to improve both your rest and overall sense of well-being. To be happier, more productive and more creative, make sure that getting a good night’s sleep is on your to-do list!