Guest author: Carolyn Burke of Sleep Advisor shares with us How Vital is Sleep
When you are busy with work, school, or family responsibilities, it’s easy to make sleep your last priority. You might go to bed later or wake up earlier than usual, or even pull an “all-nighter” in an attempt to get everything done. Or you might even put off going to bed just because you want to do something else, like watching TV or reading.
The thing is, all of that lost sleep isn’t good for you. Sleep deprivation (when you don’t get enough sleep) and sleep deficiency (when you don’t get the right kind of sleep or the quality is poor) has some serious consequences for your overall health and well-being. Even if you eat well and get plenty of exercise, if you aren’t sleeping, you’re not going to be healthy.
Why Sleep Matters
Almost everyone has experienced sleep deprivation or deficiency at some point in their lives. Stress, illness, a new baby, too much caffeine — there are many reasons that you could have disrupted sleep. Thankfully, this type of sleep deprivation is often temporary, but the effects are still obvious. A lack of sleep has a marked effect on your mood, making you cranky and irritable, zaps your energy, and makes it more difficult to concentrate and tackle your day.
However, a lack of sleep doesn’t just affect your day-to-day functioning. In terms of your overall health, sleep is vital to ensuring that your body functions as it should. Nearly every major organ and system in your body is affected by sleep, including:
Cardiovascular system. Inadequate sleep is linked to an increased risk of heart disease, high blood pressure, and stroke. During sleep, your heart and blood vessels repair themselves, so not getting enough sleep only exacerbates damage.
Endocrine system. Not getting enough sleep increases the risk of diabetes, as it helps improve your body’s reaction to insulin, the hormone that controls blood sugar levels. A lack of sleep also increases the risk of obesity, an additional risk factor for diabetes, in part because it changes your hunger hormone balance so you feel hungrier and crave more unhealthy foods than you would if you were rested.
Immune system. When you’re sleep-deprived your immune system doesn’t function the way it should, reducing your ability to fight off common infections and illnesses.
Sleep also helps reduce the risk of kidney disease and supports healthy fertility. And for young people, adequate sleep is vital to healthy growth and development, as it triggers the release of important growth hormones.
The Dangers of Not Sleeping
Getting adequate sleep — typically between 7-9 hours per night for adults — doesn’t only impact your physical health. It can also be detrimental to your safety. For example, driving while drowsy increases your risk of an accident. More than 100,000 vehicle accidents and 1,500 deaths every year are attributed to tired drivers. Research shows that sleep deprivation has the same effect on your brain as drinking alcohol, which slows your reaction time and ability to control the vehicle. Sleepiness can also cause a phenomenon known as “microsleep,” which increases your risk of an accident. Microsleep is short periods (usually a few minutes) during which you are physically asleep, even though you think you are awake. You might be driving, for instance, and not remember the last few miles of the trip, because you were actually asleep.
Driving isn’t the only activity made more dangerous by not sleeping. Many major accidents have been linked to sleep deprivation, but even smaller errors can occur when you haven’t slept. Inadequate sleep is proven to reduce your ability to make decisions, identify mistakes, and be productive. It can be harmful to interpersonal relationships as well, thanks to the irritability and moodiness that sleepiness can cause.
What to Do About It
Again, most adults need 7-9 hours of sleep per night in order to support good physical and mental health. Even just a deficit of 1-2 hours can be detrimental, especially when it’s cumulative over time. Therefore, it’s important to recognize the signs of poor sleep hygiene and develop good sleep habits. Some of the things you can do to improve your sleep include:
Create an environment conducive to sleep. Invest in a quality mattress and pillow that provide plenty of support and keep your bedroom cool and dark.
Develop a bedtime routine. Commit to going to bed and waking up at the same time each day. Start winding down an hour before bedtime by turning off devices and getting ready for bed. This might include taking a warm bath or shower, reading, performing some gentle yoga poses, meditating, or other activities to encourage sleep.
Reserve your bed for sleeping and sex. Don’t work or do other activities in bed, which can prevent you from falling asleep.
Talk to your doctor. If you have ongoing issues with sleep, talk with your doctor to rule out any sleep problems, such as sleep apnea or Restless Leg Syndrome, that could be keeping you awake. Your provider may recommend additional treatments that will help you get the rest you need.
Ultimately, sleep needs to be a priority and a part of your strategy for overall health and well-being. Even if you have a long list of things to do, staying up late isn’t going to help you get them done. You are better off getting some rest, and tackling your tasks when you are fresh, well-rested, and healthy.
Thank you Carolyn for sharing your wisdom.