Sleep is something we do on autopilot from the very first day we are born, but as we get older and busier, getting enough becomes less of a priority. Many of us get used to surviving on less and less sleep and it impacts our mood, health, and overall well-being. Read on to discover what sleep is, why we need it, and the benefits you’ll reap from getting more!
What is Sleep and Why Do We Need It?
Sleep is a critical process that resets the body and mind at the end of each day. When our batteries are running low, we need to recharge them!
Just like when you haven’t eaten for a while and get hungry when you haven’t slept for some time you’ll get tired. There’s a good reason for this – we need sleep to stay alive! Feeling tired is our body’s way of telling us to get some shut-eye for our own good. That yawn you keep stifling is like an audible alarm telling you to hit the sheets.
Chances are, you aren’t Sleeping Enough…
We’ve all seen the Instagram posts proudly announcing “I’ll sleep when I’m dead”. Somehow, taking a nap, getting an early night or managing a lie in have been stigmatized as lazy, with the majority of us think we’ve got better things to do. Consider this:
- A survey of 25,000 working adults revealed that only 1% said they woke up feeling refreshed and like they’d had enough sleep – 1%!
Most of us work pretty damn hard for a living and want to make the most of any time we have off. Trouble is, for that reason, we are missing out on the amazing benefits of sleep and sacrificing our health and happiness for a busy and hectic lifestyle.
It’s not a case of thinking you can plow through each day feeling exhausted. There’s no denying the effect a chronic lack of sleep has on your body and mind. Consider this:
- If you’ve been awake 17 hours, your cognitive function is the equivalent of having a blood alcohol level of 5% - the UK limit for driving
- If you’ve been awake for 22 hours it’s the equivalent of having a blood alcohol level of DOUBLE the UK driving limit
The average person needs between 7-9 hours of sleep each night. So even if you’re lucky enough to feel OK with a lot less sleep, the facts still stand that you’re not doing yourself any good.
Why Do We Need It?
It goes without saying that a good night’s sleep makes you more productive, more alert, and generally a nicer person to be around! But what’s the science and what exactly happens when we’re catching those zzz’s to produce these benefits? Let’s take a look at five great reasons to stay in bed!
- Improve Memory
We sleep in stages of light and deep sleep. After about 45 minutes of pillow time, our mind cleverly begins to process the events of the day, etching everything it deems important into memories and discarding the rest!
Getting enough sleep allows your body to efficiently consolidate events into memory. Not only does this improve learning and development, but it also decreases the risk of cognitive decline in later life, as seen with conditions such as Alzheimer’s Disease and Dementia.
Sleep is a powerful tool for reducing the stress that’s all too familiar in the modern world. While getting enough sleep helps to reduce the irritation and fatigue that can contribute to stress, it’s a role in destressing is actually far more complex than this.
Remember those memories we talked about? Well, the whole getting rid of memories we don’t need process is vital to reducing stress. You may think you’re relaxing when the lights go out but your mind is on a mission to forget any negative feelings or minor disruptions experienced that day.
Entering a deep sleep allows your body to sort through negative memories and recover from emotional discontent. The result of this is a reduction in circulating stress hormones. In fact, nightmares are often a way of acting out any niggling thoughts that are on our mind. So, sleep is essentially Mother Nature’s gift of overnight therapy!
- Boost Concentration
If you’ve ever heard of or experienced brain fog then you’ll know how debilitating it can be – and lack of sleep is a major cause. When you haven’t had enough sleep you begin to lose clarity, concentration, and ability to focus. Again, that’s your body telling you to take a rest.
On the flip side, after a decent night’s sleep, you’ll find that everyday tasks such as thinking, focusing, and analyzing are SO much easier. That muggy brain fog will dissipate and leave behind a clarity that will enable you to embrace the day at full focus!
- Rest and Recover
We’ve all been there, desperate for a week or two’s holiday to get some decent rest. Trouble is, catching up on a chronic lack of sleep with a few weeks of lie-ins each year just won’t cut the mustard.
When we don’t sleep enough, the negative balance of sleeplessness accumulates to create something referred to as “sleep debt”. When it comes to repaying this debt, one mega lie-in won’t come close. The only answer is to actively pursue a life of more sleep every day.
The reason for this? Sleep is our body’s chance to regenerate cells, repair the damage, and circulate essential hormones. To do this properly takes both time and rest.
- Boost Energy Levels
For every hour we’re awake something called adenosine builds up in our system. It’s a chemical which is a by-product of metabolism and without getting too science-y the more we have, the sleepier we feel. This is all to do with regulating our body clock, as after around 16-18 hours of being awake you’ll have enough adenosine in your system to help you drift off.
When we sleep the reverse of this process happens and adenosine is removed over time. If you don’t get enough sleep, you will wake up with adenosine still in your system and start your day feeling tired.
So, you guessed it, getting enough sleep is vital to remove adenosine and fight fatigue. That’s why a good night’s sleep leaves you feeling energized and motivated instead of groggy and flat!
We hope that this article has encouraged you to revisit your sleep patterns and work with your own body clock to get the rest you need. Take home message: aim for 7-9 hours of sleep every night and don’t be afraid to indulge in a nap or lie-in!
Still need convincing of sleep’s importance? We suggest you sleep on it 😉
Author: Stephanie Masterman @NutriNoggin