Part 1: Sleep And Your Health
As we embark on a new year many of us commit to making improvements in our lives – better health, better eating habits, better care of ourselves. An area that many individuals overlook is simple and straightforward and has a fundamental role in our overall sense of well-being – our sleep.
The scientific literature has abundant information on the importance of sleep in our physical functioning and our mental well-being.
Here are some of the essential services that that sleep provides to our mind and body:
- Weight loss. The stress hormone cortisol is linked to weight loss, as is leptin which is related to feelings of hunger. Both levels are affected by adequate sleep. Are you committed to losing weight? Schedule enough sleep every night. You will wake up refreshed, and more likely to stick to your exercise plan. This is especially important if you work out early in the morning. It will be very important to go to bed early enough to get your full requirement of nightly sleep.
- Stress and perspective: During sleep, our brain processes the events and feelings of the day. It levels out the highs and lows of the day, sorts the essential from the non-essential. This the reason for the age-old advice “Sleep on it” and “You’ll feel better in the morning.” This down-time is essential for the “rebooting” of the system.
- Anxiety: There is a well-established link between symptoms of anxiety and disturbed sleep. Therefore during our initial evaluation of symptoms, we inquire about sleep habits and recommend strategies for more sleep, better sleep.
- Better memory: As part of the overnight “rebooting” of the system when we sleep, the brain stores necessary information and discards useless details. According to researchers at Harvard University among others, the consolidation of information and the recall of what we have learned is facilitated by sleep. To think of it in terms of a filing system: During sleep the brain goes through information we have learned during the day, sorts it and files it in well-labeled folders so we can recall it later. When we don’t sleep enough, we suffer problems with our short term and long-term memory. Therefore sleep is especially important for students. After an all-nighter you will have recall of the information you just learned. However, after a few days that information might be difficult to recall — it has not been sorted and filed for later retrieval. Therefore it is best to learn information over the course of several days, with good sleep each night.
- Attention to detail and ability to process information: Have you ever wondered by airline pilots, flight controllers and truck drivers are required to have sleep breaks? Without sleep, we have significant problems paying attention to details and making complex decisions.
- Basic mending of the body: During sleep, our cells regenerate, our levels of inflammation subside. Recovery from surgery, heart disease, obesity and diabetes are all affected by sleep.
It is clear that sleep provides restorative, healing and balancing benefits to our waking lives. So if you are working on your new year’s resolutions, or have adamantly refused to make any – do consider adding “getting a good night’s sleep” to your everyday schedule.
Up Next – Part 2: How much sleep do you need, and tips on getting a good night’s sleep.