Remember pulling an all-nighter as a kid? Remember how terrible you felt the next day? That's what happens when you don't get enough rest. Your body begins to react. And it doesn't take long. 24 hours of no sleep can have you longing for your bed.
We all need to rest and recover. As much as we would like to think we can run around for days on end getting things done, we just can't. The human body wasn't built that way. So.... we know we need sleep, but just how important is it? How much do we need, and what happens if we don't get enough of it? Is there such a thing as too much sleep?
We will dive into all of these things in detail as we discover the role of sleep in our lives and how it affects our health and well-being.
The Importance Of Sleep
We know that sleep is important, even necessary; but I would venture to guess that most of us don't know just how important sleep really is. It goes beyond just feeling tired, or being more apt to catch a cold. Sleep or lack thereof, influences almost every aspect of our lives. It affects our health, mood, concentration, driving ability, and even our relationships. Lets take a look at some of the benefits of being properly rested.
Benefits of Sleep
It Makes You Smarter
Your body may be resting at night, but your mind is hard at work. While you are sleeping, your brain goes through a process called consolidation. Think of it like a computer that is backing up all it's files. One of the things this does is to catalog memories. It files new memories, refreshes old memories, and creates new pathways to make sure that you can retrieve these memories. It also helps to cement new skills that you learned throughout the day, and commit them to muscle memory. This is why if you don't get enough sleep, your thoughts are foggy and you have trouble remembering things. In fact, research has shown that when you don't sleep for a 24 hour period, your capacity to absorb new information can drop by as much as 50%. Can't remember where you left your keys? Get some sleep.
It Makes You Happy
It's common knowledge that sleepy people tend to be grumpy people. Parents experience this with their toddlers on a daily basis. But did you know that a prolonged lack of sleep can actually lead to depression? It's true. There is a part of the human brain called the amygdala that allows us to experience negative emotions such as fear, anxiety, and aggression.
Research has shown that sleep deprivation actually increases activity in the amygdala. In other words, not getting enough sleep makes you a negative person. If this goes on for long enough, you can slowly spiral into depression.
On the other hand, well rested people tend to experience the opposite of these effects. On average, they are friendlier, more empathetic, and more optimistic than their sleep deprived counterparts. According to psychologist Norbert Schwarz, "Making $60,000 more in annual income has less of an effect on your daily happiness than getting one extra hour of sleep a night." That seems astounding to me. It's definitely a compelling argument to get more sleep.
It Helps You Stay Fit
That's right, getting enough sleep helps you to not gain weight. If you're like me you are probably thinking, "How is that possible? It seems like less sleep = more activity = weight loss", but that isn't how it works. For one thing, being properly rested makes you less hungry. Sleep and metabolism are controlled by the same parts of the brain. When you become tired, the levels of the hormones ghrelin and leptin begin to rise. Unfortunately, these are the same hormones that drive your appetite. Therefore, if you don't go to bed, you will feel hungry and be tempted to eat. And let's face it, when you get hungry for a midnight snack, you are most likely not reaching for the celery.
Studies show that losing a few hours of sleep for just a few nights in a row can cause almost immediate weight gain. People who are sleep deprived often end up eating more calories during after-dinner snacking than in any other meal throughout the day.
Perhaps you have incredible will power and you are able to control your late night cravings. Maybe you are even able to lose weight. That's great right? Well....you are still being affected in ways you can't see. Researchers at the University of Chicago found that when sleep deprived people lose weight, they tend to lose muscle mass. When well rested people lose wight, they lose body fat. So while you may weigh the same as your well rested counterpart, your BMI could be totally different. This means that the way you carry your weigh and the way you look will also be different.
It Keeps You Healthy
Your body is a finely tuned machine. There are thousands of different processes going on inside of you at any given time. Each one of these things needs to happen flawlessly in order for you to be healthy. There are also about 50 different hormones produced by the human body. These hormones need to be tightly regulated, or bad things start to happen.
Sleep allows your body the time it needs to repair any damage that occurs throughout the day. It also allows for the proper regulation of the various chemical compounds in your body.
There are so many health benefits associated with being well rested that we couldn't possibly cover them all here. We will go over some of the big ones to show you just how important sleep is to your health.
One of the things affected by sleep is inflammation. Getting the correct amount of sleep has been proven to reduce inflammation throughout the body. This means you will have less aches and pains, and conditions like arthritis and premature aging will be slowed. Inflammation is also linked to more serious conditions such as stroke and heart disease. Getting less than six hours of sleep a night increases the level of inflammatory proteins in the blood, putting you at risk for all of these things.
When you don't get enough sleep you are much more likely to catch colds and other viruses. True, a cold probably won't kill you, but they aren't very fun either. A healthy immune system is capable of fighting off a cold virus, but a sleep deprived immune system is not.
Numerous studies show that not getting enough sleep can lead to type 2 diabetes. This happens because your body is not able to properly control the hormone, Insulin. Insulin is used by the body to regulate blood sugar. It is supposed to be released in the body after you eat, but when you aren't getting enough rest your body releases less of it than it should. To make matters worse, your body is also releasing stress hormones in order to keep you awake. These hormones work against insulin and make it harder for it to do it's job. This means that too much glucose is staying in your bloodstream and putting at risk for diabetes. If you are getting less than six hours of sleep a night, you are endangering your health.
It Keeps You Safe
As you can imagine, walking around tired makes you less aware of your surroundings. This can be dangerous whether you are walking down the street, working in a factory, or driving a car.
People who don't get enough sleep have a much higher rate of injuries and accidents in the workplace. In fact, sleep related mistakes cost American companies more than $5 billion every year.
Things are especially dangerous if you are driving a car. Not getting enough rest for just one night is the same as drinking a beer. In chronically sleep deprived people this is multiplied drastically. Drinking one beer has the same effect on a person with four hours of sleep that six beers would have on a well-rested person. Unfortunately, 20% of all serious car crashes are the result of tired drivers.
How Much Sleep Do You Need?
Now you know how important sleep is, and the impact that it has on your life. So how much sleep do you actually need? That is a great question.
As far as guidelines go, sleep needs can vary quite a bit. Age, lifestyle, environment, and even your genetic make-up play a role in how much sleep you need. Science does tell us that people who get at least seven hours of sleep every night are healthier and live longer. The average recommendation is to get between seven and nine hours of sleep if you are between the ages of 18 and 64. Children need more than this and older people often need less.
The only person who can truly determine how much sleep you need is you. Here are a few signs that you need more rest. You...
- Need an alarm to wake up on time
- Often hit the snooze button
- Have a hard time getting out of bed
- Feel lethargic in the afternoon
- Get sleepy in meetings or warm rooms
- Feel drowsy after meals
- Need to take naps
- Fall asleep watching TV
- Need to sleep in on weekends
Basically, if you aren't waking up feeling rested and refreshed, then you probably aren't getting enough sleep.
Can I Sleep Too Much?
It is indeed possible to get too much sleep. It is not a prevalent problem in America, but it can occur, especially in cases of depression.
Interestingly the health risk associated with oversleeping are much the same as the risks of sleep deprivation. Inflammation, heart disease, obesity, and diabetes are all linked to getting too much sleep.
The key with sleep, as with so many other areas in life, is to find balance. Find the correct amount of sleep for you as an individual, and live happy and healthy!
The New York Times - "How To Get A Better Nights Sleep"
Amerisleep - "Oversleeping"