How Is Sleep Vital to Health?

While we’re children, we loathe sleeping. As soon as we become adults, though, we begin to feel it’s amazing benefits and cherish every bit of sleep we can get. What causes this change of attitude? Should we simply dismiss it as part of “growing up, growing old”? It’s best to have a good look at what physicians and scientists can tell us about sleep and why it’s so important at every age.

Regular sleep vs. sleep deprivation

Experts agree that sleep deprivation is harmful to one’s health, while regular sleep has a whole series of benefits. After all, air, water, food and sleep are the truly vital elements to life and health. When it comes to sleep, three aspects matter: the duration (quantity), the quality and the regularity. It’s recommended to go to sleep at the same hour every day.

Besides, each day takes its toll. You need rest on a daily basis in order to start it all over again. Sleep isn’t cumulative, so we cannot sleep more one night, hoping it will serve us for the next day, too. Some people cannot always get a good night’s sleep, usually because of or their job. In this case, one must be aware that they need at least to compensate with sleep quality and duration.

Sleep deprivation consequences

Not getting enough adequate rest will have short term effects, but also cause harm in the long run, leading to chronic health issues. Here is what’s to be expected:

  • Cognitive dysfunction
  • Changing mood, irritability
  • Poor concentration, lack of focus
  • Decreased productivity
  • Impaired memory
  • Low immunity
  • Excessive weight gain/loss
  • Prone to infection and inflammation
  • Risk of heart disease and Type 2 diabetes
  • Hormonal imbalance

Sleep cycles don’t last for one hour, as some are inclined to believe, but between 90 and 110 minutes. Therefore, people don’t need exactly 7 or 8 hours of sleep to be at their best. Some may sleep 6.5 hours and feel well rested, while others will need a bit extra beyond those “standard” 8 hours.

Notice when you naturally wake up (without setting an alarm) and try to figure out how much sleep you need or how long your cycles are based on that. It’s essential to go at least through four cycles per night to give the body a chance to rest, to replenish its hormones, repair tissues, cleanse, ‘reset’ your mind etc.

Sleep regulates your mental health and well-being

Sleep deprivation can have terrible effects on one-s mental and emotional state. It starts with a well-known effect: constant irritability and, of course, exhaustion. A lack of sleep can also feed depression and anxiety.

The brain needs especially the so-called deep states of sleep (the delta brainwaves), for resting and healing. Also, during the lighter stages of sleep (rapid eye movement – as we dream), the brain processes recent events and emotions, discarding what it does not need. This explains many of the dreams we have and why this aspect is so important to our mental health.

What exactly happens during sleep?

Not every stage of a good night’s sleep is the same. The human brain goes through cycles, from low to high activity, part of this process being still largely unknown to scientists. The muscles relax, the heart beats slower, cells are renewed, various hormones are being secreted, the brain eliminates useless information, blood pressure gets lower, muscles are nourished, energy is replenished etc.

What can you do to sleep better?

  1. Avoid stimulating products and activities in the evening (coffee, tea, coke, chocolate, even alcohol; refrain from exercise, from watching TV, using the phone or tablet, reading something that’s too stimulating or playing sports).
  2. Transform your bedroom. Keep your TV and computer out of it. Use blinders and curtains. Keep it airy and cool at all times. Make your bed truly comfortable and inviting. Keep in mind that hard surfaces are no longer as beneficial as once thought. The best sleeping surface seems to be memory foam. However, make sure to compare before buying a mattress you can count on for the long run.
  3. Pay attention to your dinner. At least 2 hours before going to sleep and choose light but nourishing foods, especially those that contain tryptophan. Protein also helps. Drink soothing herbal infusions (with chamomile, valerian and lemon balm).

How NOT to fix your sleep problem

If you’re not getting enough rest and you’re already feeling the negative consequences, remember the number one principle of good sleep: regularity. Keep in mind that sleep needs to be a regular priority.

You cannot ‘fix’ deprivation by oversleeping on weekends or whenever you have the chance. Also, drinking coffee or energy drinks will only deplete the body of its resources and never really fight sleep deprivation. It causes exhaustion quite soon and can lead to palpitation and anxiety, especially when the body and mind are weakened.