Young calm woman in pajamas sleeping in bed

The Healing Power of Sleep: Unveiling the Impact on Your Health and Well-being

Are you getting enough sleep?  How much sleep is enough?  Sometimes the pace of modern life doesn’t allow much time to stop and rest.  We are doing more and more during waking hours.  Our eyes and minds are often in overdrive trying to keep up with all of the things on a daily basis along not to mention an increase in screen use.  Getting a good night’s sleep on a regular basis seems like a dream. 

Young calm woman in pajamas sleeping in bed

Sleep is as important for good health as diet and exercise.  Good sleep improves brain performance, mood, mental health, and physical health.  A lack of routine good quality sleep increases the risk for chronic health problems.  These health problems can include heart disease, stroke, hypertension, obesity, and dementia.  Lack of sleep can alter how well you think, react, work, learn, and interact with others.  Sleep can also affect your circulatory system, metabolism, hormones, respiratory system, and immune system.  The way you feel while you are awake depends in part on what happens while you are sleeping.  While you sleep, your body is working to support healthy brain function and maintain your physical health.  Sleep also helps support growth and development in children and teens.  

Many things can affect our sleep.  People who work the night shift or irregular schedules often struggle to get quality sleep.  Times of stress can disrupt our normal sleep routines.  Frequent travel between time zones can also significantly impact sleep.  Many medications can get in the way of sleep.  Medical conditions, such as snoring and obstructive sleep apnea, can affect good quality sleep.  

There are three main components when it comes to healthy sleep: how much sleep you get, the quality of sleep, and a consistent sleep schedule.  So, how much sleep is appropriate?  The recommendation is 7 to 9 hours of sleep for adults as per the American Academy of Sleep Medicine (AASM), Sleep Research Society (SRS), and the National Sleep Foundation (NSF).  School age children should get at least 9 hours of sleep per night and teens between 8 and 10 hours per night.  Healthy sleep requires adequate sleep duration, appropriate timing, regularity, the absence of sleep disorders, and good quality.  

The function of the brain changes when we sleep.  Everything in the body uses sleep as a time for repair.  There are certain repair processes that happen most effectively during sleep.  Lack of sleep will disturb those processes.  Sleep affects different parts of your immune system, which become active at different times of day.  When you sleep, a particular type of immune cell works harder.  That is why people who do not sleep enough may be more likely to get colds and other infections.  Sleep helps with learning and the formation of long-term memories.  Not getting enough sleep or enough high-quality sleep can lead to problems focusing on tasks and thinking clearly.  

 

Professor of Neuroscience & Psychology Matthew Walker touches on how sleep impacts our productivity:

 

Hormones are largely regulated at night.  The body handles fat according to various circadian clocks, which ensure fat is digested at appropriate times.  Inadequate sleep can lead to higher levels of the hormones that control hunger, decreased ability to respond to insulin, increased consumption of food, especially fatty, sweet, and salty foods, decreased physical activity, and metabolic syndrome.  All of these contribute to overweight and obesity.  When our days are longer, we tend to feel hungrier and eat more to keep our energy levels up.  Eating too late and trying to go to sleep on a full stomach can limit good sleep.  Food choices also play a role in how effective our sleep will be.  Alcohol and caffeine will cause problems.  Recent studies have shown that those with consistently deficient sleep gain weight.  The body’s ability to control blood sugar levels worsened.  

There are some myths surrounding sleep.  One is that adults need less sleep as they get older and this simply isn’t true.  Older adults need the same amount.  Another sleep myth is that you can “catch up” on sleep. This is absolutely false.  Trying to catch up over a weekend from a week’s worth of inadequate sleep isn’t going to be sufficient and is unhealthy behavior.  On the other side, more sleep isn’t always better.  Sleeping more than 9 hours per night could indicate underlying medical issues.

Interventions to help with optimal sleep include noise reduction, appropriate lighting, and limited interruptions.  Create a good sleeping environment with a cool temperature, dark room, and silence your cell phone.  Stick to a sleep schedule and go to bed and wake up at the same time each day, even on weekends.  Healthy nutrition and regular exercise (not too close to bedtime) are important for good sleep.  Circadian alignment will help and regular doses of natural sunlight for at least 30 min each day.  Avoid nicotine and caffeine as both are stimulants that keep you awake.  Don’t take naps after mid-afternoon and if you do nap, keep them short.  Avoid alcohol and large meals before bedtime, both can prevent deep, restorative sleep.  Limit electronics before bed.  Try reading a book, listening to soothing music, or other relaxing activity.  Don’t lie in bed awake.  If you can’t fall asleep after 20 minutes, get up and do a relaxing activity until you feel sleepy again.  Talk to your healthcare provider if nothing helps.  Medications can help in the short term but are not recommended long-term.  Certain tests, such as a sleep study, can look for disorders.  Make sleep a priority as much as possible. Sleep is not something to toss to the side, it is a biological necessity and essential to health!

 

Sources:

  1. Ramar, Kannan, et. Al. Sleep is essential to health: an American Academy of Sleep Medicine position statement. Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine, October 1, 2021, vol 17: issue 10. 
  2.  Good Sleep for Good Health. News in Health (NIH). April 2021.
  3.  Why Is Sleep Important?  National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute. March 24, 2022.
  4.  Good Sleep for Good Health. News in Health (NIH). April 2021.

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