In the past, sleep may have been taken for granted, even by some medical experts, but today we know more about the benefits of sleep and just how important the right amount of sleep is to our overall health.
Some people shrug off the idea of an extra hour of sleep making much of a difference, but many sleep experts strongly believe that it does. In fact, some studies demonstrate that the gap between just enough sleep and not getting enough sleep can impact your mood, weight, sex life, and general health.
Adults should get seven to eight hours of good quality sleep each night. However, getting enough sleep isn’t just about total time; it’s also about quality of sleep. If you have a poor quality of sleep, you will feel tired when you wake up.
What is even more concerning is that research tells us that when people get less than six or seven hours of sleep each night, they are putting themselves at a higher risk of developing health problems.
What Are the Benefits of Sleep?
There are many reasons why sleep is important. The health benefits of sleep have actually been well documented. Countless studies have found that insufficient sleep and some health problems, including heart disease, heart attacks, diabetes, and obesity, are linked. In many cases, health problems only arise several years after a pattern of sleep loss.
One study that looked at disturbed sleep patterns of shift workers showed that after just four days, three out of ten had blood glucose levels that were classified as pre-diabetic.
The following list covers some of the many benefits of proper sleep:
Keeps heart healthy
A lack of sleep has been linked to worse blood pressure and cholesterol, which are risk factors for both heart disease and stroke. Heart attacks tend to happen during the early morning hours, and some experts believe it may be due to the way sleep interacts with blood vessels. You will have a healthier heart if you get between seven and nine hours of sleep each night.
May prevent Cancer
Research suggests that people who work the late shift have a higher risk of getting breast or colon cancer. Melatonin, which is a hormone that regulates the sleep/wake cycle is thought to help protect against cancer by suppressing the growth of tumors. Exposure to light reduces melatonin levels. This is one of the reasons sleep specialists advise us to make sure our bedroom is dark, and we avoid using electronics or watching television just before bed.
When we don’t get enough sleep our bodies become stressed. When the body is stressed this means we can get a high blood pressure. High blood pressure increases the risk of heart attack and stroke.
Inflammation can cause our bodies to deteriorate as we get older. An increase in stress hormones due to lack of sleep, in turn, increases the level of inflammation in the body. Inflammation is not only a risk factor for heart-related problems; it also puts you at higher risk for cancer and diabetes.
Makes you alert
Have you felt energized after a good night’s sleep? If you are active during the day, you should be able to get a good night’s sleep so that you feel refreshed and ready to tackle the new day when you wake up. In other words, sleep powers us up.
When we sleep our body is resting, but our brain is working overtime, processing the day and making connections between feelings and memories. Deep sleep is an important time because it allows the brain to make memories and links that help you remember better.
Studies have demonstrated that those who sleep less than 7 hours each night are more apt to have a weight issue or be obese. The theory is that a lack of sleep plays havoc on the balance of hormones in our body that impact our appetite. The hormones ghrelin and leptin helps regulate our appetite, but they seem to get disrupted when we don’t get enough sleep.
Makes You Smarter
Some people get an afternoon boost from caffeine, but a healthier approach is to nap during the day. A Greek study involving 24,000 adults revealed that individuals who napped several times a week had a lower risk of dying from heart disease. Napping has also shown to improve memory and cognitive ability.
Reduces risk of depression
Sleep has an impact on serotonin and people who have deficient serotonin have an increased risk of becoming depressed.
Helps repair the body
When we sleep and are relaxed the body works to repair the damage that is caused by stress and other harmful exposure.
Better sex life
A lack of sleep in men has been associated with lower testosterone levels. The National Sleep Foundation reports that up to 20 percent of people admit that their sex lives suffer because they are just so tired.
People who suffer from chronic pain or acute pain from an injury report that getting a good night’s sleep makes them “hurt less.” Some researchers say they have discovered that getting good sleep can be a pain medication substitute for certain individuals.
Lowers risk of injury
It may sound odd but getting a good night’s sleep can be a safety measure. Not getting enough sleep has been associated with disasters. One out of five automobile accidents in the United States is attributed to tired drivers. This works out to about one million crashes per year. All kinds of accidents; some minor and some major, can occur when you are exhausted. You can tip or fall down a flight of stairs, and you can cut yourself while simply chopping fruit or vegetables in the kitchen.
Many medical scientists believe that sleeping helps increase our immune system. One preliminary study that followed over 150 people for two weeks and exposed them to the cold virus concluded that those who got seven hours of sleep a night or less were almost 3 times more likely to get sick than those who got eight hours or more of sleep per night.
It stands to reason that if sleep helps ward off disease and keeps us healthier that it would help us live longer. Research in this area is ongoing; however, a Swedish study that was recently published in the Journal of Sleep Research showed that adults 65 and under who slept five or fewer hours each night during the week had over a 60 percent higher risk of dying compared to people who slept six or more hours per night.
There are a number of reasons people toss and turn all night long. Getting to the root of your sleeplessness is the first step in turning things around. For some people, getting into the habit of sleeping and waking up at the same time every day, even on weekends, is all it takes to get back into a good sleep pattern.
One of the common tips that sleep specialists share is to create a relaxing atmosphere to sleep in; a place where you avoid bringing in work, food or your cell phone just before you try to go to sleep.
If you have tried various methods to fall asleep but are still struggling with sleeplessness, talk to your doctor who can guide you to a good night’s rest and help you reap the benefits of sleep.