Sleep as the Cornerstone to Good Health
Getting good quality sleep every night is imperative to good physical and mental health. It could be said that sleep is the glue that keeps us functioning normally as human beings. Discussed below are four specific consequences of sleep and physical health, followed by four specific consequences of sleep and mental health.
Sleep and Physical Well-Being
1. Sleep and Physical Stamina – It is becoming more and more well-documented that poor sleep and sleep deprivation over extended periods of time can lead to several chronic health-related conditions, among them obesity, heart disease, diabetes, and depression. Though some brag about only getting or needing very few hours of sleep each night, or consider sleep a “luxury”, medical-speaking, sleep is a necessity. According to a sleep study reported by the American Heart Association, people who get 5 or fewer hours of sleep are about 60% more likely to develop hypertension. It’s also no mystery that sleep affects your response time. Driving drowsy, for example, can be just as dangerous and fatal as driving while impaired by alcohol.
2. Sleep and Immunity – When the body is sleep deprived, this causes a lowering of T-cells, which are essential to immune function. As well, there is an increase in inflammatory cytokines, a bad combination. There is a school of thought that inflammation is the root of disease. In any case, not getting enough sleep has been proven to lower one’s immune response and is cause for being more susceptible to colds, the flu, infection, and other attacks on immunity. Recovery time from sickness is also longer for those who are deprived of the sleep their bodies need.
3. Sleep and Growth – HGH, or Human Growth Hormone, is released during sleep. HGH is involved in the growth, repair, and maintenance of muscles and bones. While waking hours are spent using up resources like the energy we derive from oxygen and food, sleep is the time for building. During the teen years is the time when the largest amounts of HGH are produced in the body. HGH is known not only to help with growth, but is also an anti-aging factor.
4. Sleep and Weight Control – Not getting sufficient sleep can cause the body to secrete too much of the hormone ghrelin, which functions to encourage you to want to eat. Ghrelin’s counterpart, leptin, signals the body to stop eating. But, not getting enough sleep can lessen the amount of leptin in the body and cause you to want to eat more. To add to these factors, sleep deprivation also slows down the body’s metabolism. If you want the perfect recipe for packing on the pounds, go sleep deprived. On the other hand, if you’d like help losing weight, make sure that adequate sleep is part of your regimen.
Sleep and Mental Well-Being
1. Sleep and Memory – Researchers have found that not getting enough sleep distracts the brain from focusing and being able to retain information. According to WebMD, there are three parts to “making memories” – the acquisition phase, the consolidation phase, and the recall phase. While the acquisition phase and the recall phase happen while we are awake, it is believe that sleep is required for the consolidation phase of forming memories, or in other words, making facts or episodic-type memories stick. So, keeping late hours and “cramming” for a test as a college student may not be the best strategy to performing well with recall. Better to make sure that a restful night of sleep is had before that big test.
2. Sleep and Learning – Similar to sleep and memory, it’s very difficult to learn new facts, ideas, or concepts without having first gotten adequate sleep. An interesting study was done with bees to illustrate the lack of ability to learn appropriately when not getting enough sleep. The bees’ sleep was interfered with, which caused them difficulty in remembering experiences they had learned a day previous.
3. Sleep and Moods – All of us have experience the wrath of someone who has “woken up on the wrong side of the bed”. Lack of sleep causes irritability, and disorientation. Not getting enough sleep can cause individuals to become quite emotional. Sleep deprivation is tied to depression as well. In fact, those who are repeatedly awakened during the R.E.M. sleep state can become downright angry. Extended periods of sleep deprivation can even cause hallucinations or delusions (and even death – now that’s enough to ruin your day!). It just makes sense that getting enough sleep can mitigate some of the stresses we face on a daily basis, and help to keep emotions and moods on a more even keel.
4. Sleep and Creativity and Imagination – Having good quality sleep on a consistent basis does lend itself to better creativity and imagination. The phrase “sleep on it” is actually very sound advice. During sleep our subconscious can go to work to help us solve problems. Often dreams can provide insight that we hadn’t considered during waking hours. Dreams are often the product of our imaginations, wrapped together with portions of true experience. Here is a BBC article covering notable examples of “dream discoveries”. Get your sleep and create something wonderful!
Some of the reasons for sleep are common sense, while others have yet to be discovered. For now though, there’s plenty of evidence to suggest that getting 7-8 hours of sleep per night (for adults) is the best recipe for good, sustainable health and longevity.