The Importance of Sleep to Your Health.
Written by Harriet Argent
The average person will spend around a third of their life asleep, or at the very least attempting to sleep. It is a huge part of our existence and we are constantly reminded of how important it is to get those precious eight hours. But why is sleep so vital and what exactly would happen if we didn’t get it? Well, apart from being slightly irritable and in need of a shedload of caffeine, skipping sleep can have serious detrimental effects on our physical and mental health. According to the NHS, one in three of us will suffer from poor sleep so this article is here to explain how this can impact our health and why getting sufficient sleep is so essential.
Sleep and Physical Health
As we all know, sleep is an essential human function. It’s as important to our bodies as hydration and nutrition, in the sense that, if we didn’t sleep we would die. The scientific explanation for this is that when we are asleep our muscles relax and transition into an 'anabolic state' which means they begin to repair and regenerate. This process also happens in our organs and body tissue. So if you ever feel guilty about sleeping in late or having too many naps just look it as some quality bodily repair time.
Here are a few ways that sleep benefits our physical health:
1) Better cardiovascular health.
If you are getting regular good quality sleep then your body has more time to heal and repair its heart and blood vessels. The more time they get to heal the stronger and healthier they will be. It has also been suggested that regular poor sleep is associated with increased blood pressure which, according to the CDC, is one of the leading risks for heart disease. To add to that, the British Heart Foundation discovered that people who frequently slept for less than 6 hours a night were more likely to suffer from coronary artery disease. Turns out that extra hour in bed can really make a world of difference!
2) Good sleep reduces the risk of diabetes.
Firstly, it is important to note that there are several reasons as to why someone may develop diabetes. To say that this could be prevented by good sleep alone would be an oversimplification. That said, numerous studies suggest that people who suffer from prolonged sleep loss have a higher risk of developing type 2 diabetes. The NHS explains that this is because sleep loss will affect the way the body reacts to glucose. In addition to this, those who get enough sleep will naturally have more energy and are more likely to sustain a healthy lifestyle through exercise and good food choices, both of which contribute to a decreased risk of diabetes.
3) A better functioning immune system.
Regularly missing out on sleep can have adverse effects on the immune system. This happens because the body is deprived of time where it can replenish the cells and hormones that contribute to its immune response. Sleeping won’t magically prevent you from ever getting ill, but it will leave you less susceptible. So if you can’t seem to shift that cold or you’re constantly coming down with something then maybe you need to look at your sleeping patterns.
Sleep and Mental Health
The connection between sleeping and mental wellness is not quite as understood as it is with physical health. However, organisations like the NHS and Harvard Medical School agree that there is enough evidence to suggest that chronic sleep loss can affect your psychological state. Here are a few examples of how adequate sleep benefits your mental wellbeing:
1) A decreased risk of developing mood disorders.
Sleep not only replenishes the body, but also the mind. In their article ‘Sleep and Mental Health’ Harvard Medical School reveal that sleep problems can increase the risk of developing certain disorders, such as depression and anxiety. They outline several studies that suggest sleep deprivation is a cause of such disorders, as well as a result of them. On top of this, frequent sleep loss can make symptoms of existing mood disorders worse and prevent recovery.
2) You will be better at processing emotions.
Studies have shown that depriving yourself of sleep disturbs how the brain regulates emotion. This is partly because it allows more space for negative thinking and may mean you are less able to rationalise thoughts and worries. It can also lead to decreased social interaction which sets the stage for isolation and loneliness, both of which can contribute to declining mental health. Getting enough sleep allows the brain to process emotional information and strengthens the ability to cope with such emotions during the day.
3) Increased concentration and productivity.
We all know what it’s like trying to get something done on little to no sleep; it’s virtually an impossible task. Your brain feels fuzzy, nothing seems to sink in and all you can think about is how nice your bed is going to feel at the end of the day. It is a proven fact that regular good quality sleep will allow you to concentrate for longer. It also improves your memory and attention span. Think of all the things you could tick off your to-do list if you just prioritised getting enough sleep!
Sleep needs to be a priority
Hopefully, this has convinced you of the power sleep can have on your physical and mental health. We must make it a priority in our lives, if we want to be the best versions of ourselves! Getting a good night’s sleep can be dependent on your environment so make sure that your bedroom is a place where you can be calm and relaxed. Check out our article on ‘How to Make Your House a Sanctuary’ for more tips on this!
If chronic sleep loss is affecting your life then please do not hesitate to seek help. Talk to your GP about the different treatments available or go to mind.org for more advice.